STRONGER LOBBYING RULES NEEDED TO CATCH VULTURE FUNDS

Today at Leader’s Questions, I raised the need for stricter rules on lobbying on tax matters. I also called on the Tánaiste to inform the Dáil how much extra the Government expected to raise in tax from vulture funds following the €158 million tax windfall from NAMA.

The Government should prescribe the HEO and AP grades within the tax division of the Department of Finance as designated officials, to make sure that lobbying by vulture funds can no longer be hidden in the shadow.

Today it is reported that Matheson has closed the three charities that were used by vulture funds to avoid paying tax. However, a fortnight ago the Irish Times published a comprehensive investigation showing the intense lobbying before the Budget from companies like Kennedy Wilson, Oaktree Capital, Hammerson and CarVal.

“The investigation has shown the depth and extent of lobbying activity by vulture funds of the Depa rtment o f Finance trying to ensure that changes to our laws didn’t inconvenience their elaborate tax avoidance structures. But the statutory lobbying register seems to show a lot less activity.

An analysis of the lobbying returns relating to the September – December 2016 period showed that only a small portion of those meetings were declarable and that much of the lobbying was carried out with junior officials so that it flies under the radar. It is clear that the lobbying rules in relation to taxation matters need to be strengthened so that all activity is captured.

In at least one case, it seems that letters from a vulture fund directly to Minister Noonan have not been declared. In other cases, it may be that vulture funds have avoided any necessity to declare their interactions by channelling their contact to more junior officials, to whom contact does not yet have to be declared.

Tax policy is a particularly important part of public policy.  Our tax syste m must be just and fair.

And continuing to allow vulture funds to influence tax policy under the radar is incredibly unfair to families across Ireland who have no such access.

This week we have also seen that NAMA will pay an extra €158 million in tax on profits made by the agency from sales of property held through Section 110 companies. To put it in context – that’s roughly the same amount that NAMA has made available for the Boland Mills development.

The Government should also provide more details on the millions in extra tax it now expects to collect from vulture funds.”