Header Item Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013: Committee Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Visit of President of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
 Header Item Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 228 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien] In what he is doing the Minister is copperfastening that parent as a second-class parent. He continues to emphasise the primary parent and the primary carer. He is creating a hierarchy of parents and parenting, whereby one parent is more important than the other. That is the implication of these changes. I am sure that is not what he wants to do and know it is not what my colleagues who will shortly vote on these changes want to do. I again put it to my colleagues on the Government side that this is an opportunity for the Seanad to make a recommendation. It would send a clear signal that it has listened.

  Members will agree that Barnardos, Treoir and One Family are three agencies that are the experts in this area. All three are completely opposed to these changes. They, like me and my party, agree that changes and reform are required. However, is it a question of the Government being right and all the experts such as the agencies I mentioned being wrong and their concerns about the changes brought forward by the Minister being irrelevant? The Government is all-powerful and all-knowing; therefore, any independent advice and opinion given to it by the expert agencies is simply to be set aside and ignored.

  We have had a good debate on this section and I thank the Minister for his open contribution to it and responding to the questions we have asked, but that does not get around the fundamental fact of what Members are doing in voting to support section 7. All of the negative impacts that others and I have mentioned will come to pass. Maintenance orders will be unpicked; maintenance agreements reached in the family courts will not be met and people who depend on this tax credit to look after their children and travel to see them will not be able to do so. It is an anti-family and certainly an anti-child measure. For that reason, it should be trenchantly opposed.

  Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Visit of President of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Before calling on the Minister to reply, I welcome Mr. Jean-Claude Mignon, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. On my own behalf and that of all my colleagues in Seanad Éireann, I extend a very warm welcome to him and good wishes for a very successful visit to Ireland.

Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

SECTION 7

  Question again proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The purpose of Senator Kathryn Reilly's recommendation is to suspend the application of this measure until the Minister signs a commencement order and that the Minister would not be enabled to sign such a commencement order until a report examining the effects of the proposed arrangement was prepared and laid before the Dáil. If I were to accept that recommendation, the proposal would not take effect in the next calendar year and the budgetary arithmetic would be out by the amount of the yield from the measure - €18 million 2014.
  We have a report on this issue which was prepared by the Commission on Taxation. The commission consulted widely and received thousands of representations from all interest groups and individuals about all aspects of the tax code and the recommendations it had made. We are not operating at random but as a result of a recommendation from the commission in its report in 2009. With one exception, its recommendation was to have a single tax credit simpliciter paid to the primary carer, as the commission called it. I accepted Senator Jim D'Arcy's advice and amended the section in the Dáil in order that in circumstances where the primary carer would not have an income to enable him or her to avail of the tax credit, it could be yielded to the other parent. That goes beyond the recommendation made by the Commission on Taxation and it was a very good proposal made by Senator Jim D'Arcy.
  Because of the very strong advocacy by Senator Darragh O'Brien, it is similar to previous inputs to the debate. It would be a very compelling set of arguments if there were tax credits applied across all families and if all children had tax credits, but they do not. Couples living together, either cohabiting or married, who have children do not receive tax credits under the tax code. The Senator is asking me to provide two tax credits in respect of certain children. I understand the argument and I am prepared to provide one in the circumstances I have outlined, but I am not prepared to provide two. That is the adjustment being made. It is fair when one takes account of the fact, which I repeat, that there is no tax credit for children in families where the parents are living together. That is the reason I am not accepting the argument.
   We can draw on the experiences of other countries. The details of the Dutch example are quite revealing because it has a good record on social policy issues. In Canada there is only one tax credit along the lines I am proposing and if there is a dispute about who should receive it, nobody receives it under the law. It is to incentivise couples to come to amicable agreements rather than being compelled to do so by the law. There are different ways of doing things and different countries have different approaches. Canada also has a good record on social policy and child care issues.
  The making of the commencement order simply stops the thing from happening for at least 12 months. The time to receive a report is when the provision is implemented in order that we can see how it is working. Without the measure being implemented, there is nothing a report can tell us that we do not know already and which has not been the subject of this debate. It will be a matter of opinion. If the 100 day issue creates practical difficulties, I give a commitment that I will return to the Houses of the Oireachtas and remediate whatever difficulty emerges.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien To clarify, I have not argued for the status quo; none of us has. We all recognise that changes and reform are required in this area. I am not asking the Minister to continue the double credit but simply to allow the credit to be shared in some cases, as happens in Holland and which could be done here. The Minister is partially allowing it where somebody cannot claim the full credit. If he or she is not working, he or she cannot claim the tax credit. However, in other instances there are residual amounts or there is an agreement that it is split 50:50. Many parenting agreements are now 50:50 and, thankfully, in recent times parents have stepped up to the mark to share the responsibility. Therefore, they should be able to share the credit. That is our view.
  I am not arguing to retain the status quo. However, given the budgetary pressures on the Minister, the difficult Department he must deal with and the difficult juggling act in which he must engage with the figures every year to try to balance and present his budget, this is purely a financial measure which the Department has not thought through in terms of the social consequences. The Minister could save money by reforming it, in which I would support him. That is the point. I am not asking him to retain the system as it is; neither I nor my colleagues have argued for this.


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