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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 72-81
 Header Item Health Insurance Prices
 Header Item Maternity Services
 Header Item Ambulance Service Staff
 Header Item International Summits
 Header Item Passport Applications
 Header Item Undocumented Irish in the USA
 Header Item Property Tax Administration
 Header Item Customs and Excise Controls
 Header Item Tax Credits
 Header Item Pensions Levy

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 77 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 72-81

Health Insurance Prices

 72. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly the extent to which he and his Department continue to monitor and address the issues which appear continually to drive private health insurance premiums upward; the extent to which such premiums are affected by the public or the private health sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [6873/14]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly The main legislative provisions for the regulation of the Irish private health insurance market are included in the Health Insurance Acts 1994 to 2013 and Regulations made under those Acts. Under this legislation, my Department oversees the maintenance of a competitive and sustainable private health insurance market and monitors developments on an ongoing basis.

There are a number of factors which affect the cost of private health insurance premiums such as increased usage of hospital services and the increasing cost of claims, the age profile of those holding private health insurance and ongoing medical innovations which, while welcome, can have an impact on the cost of care. There has been a significant increase in private hospital capacity over recent years, which can be considered as a contributory factor to increased utilisation of private hospital accommodation. As a result, a significant number of private health insurance claims are for procedures which are performed in private facilities and the negotiated price for procedures in private hospitals is a "package" price, which may include the cost of surgery, drugs, pathology and accommodation. Taking all relevant factors into account, the insurance companies, operating as commercial providers, then make commercial decisions when setting their premium prices each year.

I have been strongly seeking much greater cost control in the private health insurance industry and have consistently emphasised the vital need to address the rising cost of private health insurance and the necessity for all private health insurers to address their cost base aggressively. Last year I established the Consultative Forum on Health Insurance, comprising representatives from the private health insurance companies, my Department, and the Health Insurance Authority, to generate ideas to address health insurance costs. I appointed an independent Chairperson Mr. Pat McLoughlin, who will work with my Department and the insurers under the auspices of the Forum on a review process to give effect to real cost reductions in the private health insurance market. Mr McLoughlin’s first report was published on 26 December 2013, and the second phase of the review has commenced and will report within three months. In particular it will study further the drivers behind rising costs in the PHI industry and seek to address them.

The Government remains committed to keeping down the cost of health insurance, so that it is affordable for as many people as possible, as part of measures to ensure the sustainability of the private health insurance market in the transition to Universal Health Insurance.

Maternity Services

 73. Deputy Charles Flanagan Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly if he is satisfied with the level of accommodation, staffing levels, implementation of national protocols, equipment, professional training and development for personnel in the maternity unit at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, County Laois; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [6704/14]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly As the Deputy may be aware, in light of reports of a number of perinatal deaths at Portlaoise hospital in recent years, I have asked the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to provide me with a report on the issues arising. Pending completion of that report, it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment regarding facilities or services at the hospital. I can however assure the Deputy that the CMO’s report will be completed as expeditiously as possible.

Ambulance Service Staff

 74. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly if he will investigate reports received by this Deputy that three relatives of the chief ambulance officer national ambulance service have recently been employed in the positions of ambulance control supervisor, acting team leader and ambulance controller, following interviews by a panel which included the chief ambulance officer; if these reports are confirmed if such recruitment practices are deemed acceptable in the public service and might also jeopardise health and safety considerations which should apply to the ambulance service; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [6956/14]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply. Since 1st April 2005, recruitment for appointments to positions in the HSE is subject to the provisions of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act, 2004 (the Act) and is regulated by the Commission for Public Service Appointments (CPSA.). Appointments to positions in the Health Service Executive, apart from those positions which are subject to the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act 1926, are subject to the Codes of Practice published by the CPSA. The Codes of Practice set out how the core of principles of probity, merit, equity and fairness are to be applied on a principle basis.

International Summits

 75. Deputy Eoghan Murphy Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if Ireland will play an active part in the second international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, taking place in Mexico on 13 to 14 February 2014.  [7206/14]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The Deputy may be assured that Ireland strongly supports international efforts to focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and that we will continue to play an active part in all related discussions, including at the Second International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Mexico this week. Officials from my Department will actively participate in that Conference.

At the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee meeting in Geneva in 2012, which marked the beginning of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review cycle, Switzerland delivered a joint statement on behalf of sixteen countries, including Ireland, on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament. Since then, over successive NPT and UNGA First Committee meetings, support for the statement has grown from 16 to 35 to 80 and, at the 2013 First Committee meeting of the UN General Assembly, to 125 states - a majority of UN members. Ireland participated in the First International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, hosted by the Norwegian Government in Oslo on 4 and 5 March 2013. We will remain closely associated with this humanitarian initiative, as one of the original sixteen initiators of the joint statement. I believe that discussion of the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear detonation offers a basis for reframing the nuclear disarmament debate in such a way that the catastrophic consequences so evident in Hiroshima and Nagasaki guide international efforts to eliminate nuclear arsenals entirely.

Passport Applications

 76. Deputy Jack Wall Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if, due to the circumstances of a family (details supplied), a family member can use any other mechanism to resolve their passport problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7304/14]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore All passport applications are subject to the provision of Passports Act, 2008 (the Act). The issue of a passport is, therefore, the culmination of an important and legally-binding process. The checks and balances within the passport process embrace the standard principles that are provided for in the Act and help to ensure that the identity of the applicant is known and that the person in question is an Irish citizen. This serves to maintain the worldwide good reputation and integrity of the Irish passport, which, in turn, ensures the safe travel and wellbeing of Irish citizens, as they travel abroad. Moreover, it helps to combat passport and identity fraud.

The Act underpins a long-standing passport policy in regard to the use of verifiable civil documents such civil birth certificates for first-time applicants. These documents confirm the details of a person’s birth name, date and place of birth, all of which are critical components of a person’s identity.

The Passport Service received an application from the person in question on 12 March, 2013. It could not be finalized at that time because the person concerned did not provide their civil birth certificate or passport from country of birth. As advised to Deputy Wall in recent correspondence the Passport Service the Irish Embassy in Vietnam,in their efforts to assist the applicant, has advised that whilst the original records for birth registration were lost, the applicant can have their birth re-registered and obtain their birth certificate at Hai Phong Department of Justice in Vietnam. Once the applicants official birth certificate is received, the Passport Office can progress this Passport application.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

 77. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if he has had contact with Members of the US Administration or Members of Congress following the recent comments by the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Mr. Boehner, on the immigration reform Bill in view of the need to regularise the position of many undocumented Irish in the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7352/14]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Following passage of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation, on a bi-partisan basis, by the US Senate last June, the issue has been under consideration in the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Public comments and private conversations which I, the Taoiseach and our Embassy in Washington DC had with leaders of the House Republican caucus, had given rise to expectations that the House would take up consideration of a series of immigration reform bills last autumn. Unfortunately that did not come to pass.

Early last month, further public comments from Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Chief Whip Kevin McCarthy again raised hopes that the Republican leadership in the House saw the need to proceed with immigration reform. To that end, the leadership prepared a set of draft principles that would guide their action on immigration in the House and presented them to the members of their caucus for consideration at a meeting on 30 January 2014.

Informed by that discussion, Speaker Boehner gave a press conference on 5 February in which he expressed doubts that the House would pass immigration reform legislation this year. He did reassert that immigration reform is something that needs to get done and that he would continue to consult his members. Given that expectations had again been raised, these and other comments are disappointing. However, it is important that we keep our focus on the endgame. The Government through our Ambassador in Washington DC and her team are continuing an extensive outreach and engagement with members of Congress and with the Irish groups and organisations who are lobbying for immigration reform. We are monitoring the ongoing discussions within the Republican Party and continuing to press the case for addressing the concerns of our undocumented and to provide for a future legal flow for Irish immigrants to the United States. The forthcoming St. Patrick’s Day visits to the United States will provide a further important opportunity to engage with US leaders in support of our immigration objectives and to assess the prospects for the weeks and months ahead. We remain fully committed to the effort to achieve an outcome that addresses the needs of our undocumented and creates a legal path for the future.

Property Tax Administration

 78. Deputy Eoghan Murphy Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if the local property tax adjustment allowed by local authorities is the maximum cumulative increase or decrease permissible in a given year or over a period of years, that is, could it be reduced by 15% every year; and, if it will be the local authorities or central government responsible for setting the basic rate at the next valuation in 2017.  [7313/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Section 20 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act legislation enables local authorities to increase or decrease the rate of local property tax by a local adjustment factor on properties located in their area.  This factor cannot exceed +15% or -15% of the central national rate.   The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government may make regulations regarding the setting of the local adjustment factor. Section 17 of the Act provides for a central national rate of 0.18% on the first €1m in value and 0.25% on the portion of the value above €1m (where no banding will apply). Any adjustment to the central rate would require an amendment of the Act. As I advised the House during the debate on the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill, the central national rate will not vary for the lifetime of this Government.

Customs and Excise Controls

 79. Deputy Michael McCarthy Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the current rate of import duty and taxes when importing goods into Ireland from outside the EU whether by a private individual or commercial entity; the rationale for same; his views on whether this is at variance with other jurisdictions which do not impose such a charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7245/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that, the EU Common Customs Tariff (Council Regulation 2658/87) specifies the duty to be applied to all goods coming into the EU from 3rd countries, whether imported by private individuals or by commercial entities. This EU wide system is applied in all 28 Member States. There is no single rate of duty. The rates of duty vary from one product to another and can be further influenced by factors such as the origin of the goods and whether preferential treatment is warranted under an international agreement or a quota regime. VAT at the point of entry to the European Union may also be chargeable at the prevailing rates for the goods in question. It is difficult to be more helpful to the Deputy in the absence of specific details of the goods being imported. However if the Deputy has a specific issue in mind he may wish to contact the Revenue Commissioners directly.

Tax Credits

 80. Deputy Dominic Hannigan Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan the way the change to civil partnership legislation has affected cohabiting couples who are seeking to share tax credits when one is working and the other is not; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7246/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan A couple who enter into a civil partnership in accordance with the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 can avail of the same treatment for tax purposes as married couples including joint assessment. This includes the right to share tax credits and reliefs. The relevant taxation provisions extending this tax treatment to civil partners were set out in the Finance (No. 3) Act 2011. The tax legislation also provides for relief for maintenance payments made on the breakdown of the civil partnership in the same way as for separated or divorced spouses. Thus legally enforceable maintenance payments made for the benefit of a separated or former civil partner are fully deductible for tax purposes in the hands of the payer. There is also Capital Gains Tax relief for property transfers between civil partners or former civil partners on separation or on dissolution of a civil partnership.

In the case of cohabitants, and arising from the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, the Finance (No. 3) Act 2011 introduced a new Part 44B into the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (TCA), which provides for the same maintenance relief as for a married couple or civil partners for a financially dependent cohabitant in the event of the cessation of the cohabiting arrangement. This tax relief applies to legally enforceable maintenance arrangements made under section 175 of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. There is also Capital Gains tax relief for property transfers arising from orders made under section 174 of the same Act.

Other than arrangements for redress on the break down of a cohabiting relationship, there are no provisions in the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 for legal recognition of such relationships. Cohabitants do not have the same legal rights and obligations as a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership. Where a couple is cohabiting, rather than married or in a civil partnership, each cohabitant is treated for the purposes of income tax as a separate and unconnected individual. Because each of them is a separate entity for tax purposes, credits, tax bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one co-habitant to the other.

Pensions Levy

 81. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if he will abolish the pension fund levy at the end of 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7270/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I announced in my Budget 2014 speech that the 0.6% Pension Fund Levy introduced to fund the Jobs Initiative in 2011 will be abolished from the 31st of December 2014. I have, however, introduced an additional levy on pension funds at 0.15% for 2014 and 2015 in Finance (No. 2) Act 2013. I am doing this to, among other things, continue to help fund the Jobs Initiative. This legislation does not provide for a levy beyond 2015.


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