Tax Justice

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 16th January 2017

3. Mr Milne asked the Minister of Finance what steps his Department is taking to promote tax justice. (AQO 877/16-21)

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas le mo chomrádaí as lár Uladh as a cheist faoi chothromas cánach. The tax system needs to be fair and one where everyone — regular workers, small companies and multinationals — plays by one set of rules. Fairness and equality must be at the absolute heart of all we do in government. This is an issue I spoke about at a tax justice event in Dublin late last year that brought together tax justice activists, academics, aid organisations and trade unionists from across Ireland.

Prior to recent developments, I asked my officials to lay the groundwork for establishing a ministerial advisory council of experts to advise me on tax justice issues and rates fairness. I have already brought forward proposals to spread the burden and use our rating system as a lever for social and economic development. Furthermore, my Department has taken steps to promote tax compliance in government contracts.

Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin

Buíochas fosta don Aire as na freagraí a thug sé go dtí seo. Ba mhaith liom a rá fosta — b'fhéidir gurb é seo an Tráth na gCeist deireannach sa Tionól seo — go ndearna an tAire jab maith, agus sílim go mbeidh tú arais arís anseo. What steps has your Department taken to promote tax cut compliance in government contracts?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat fosta as na beannachtaí. Tá súil agam go mbeimid beirt arais am éigin sa todhchaí nuair a bhéas cothrom na Féinne ar fail anseo agus lá níos gile.

I think the greatest example of how tax justice and fairness was got wrong was the vulture funds. Of course, the NAMA vulture fund was the most egregious example of a fund that came in, exploited and bent the rules, milked and scammed the system and took people on. We ended up with Project Eagle, which is the subject of investigation in at least three jurisdictions. The upshot of that with tax fairness is that a headline in 'The Sunday Business Post' last week referred to vulture funds in Ireland preying on the people and on the damage of the crash of 2008-09: their profits were €20 billion, and the tax bill they paid was €20,000.

It has been a priority of my Department to promote tax compliance in government contracts. With the help of officials, particularly our procurement officials, we have put in place additional measures to make sure that public contracts are tax avoidance and tax dodging-proofed. The Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which implement the 2014 EU procurement directive, provide a contracting authority with the power to exclude a supplier that has failed to meet its tax obligations.

Last year, I met Christian Aid, which is campaigning on this. When I left, they said, "Just remember one statistic, and quote it when you can: multinational companies that dodge their tax obligations cost the public purse $160 billion a year". Of course, $160 billion is equivalent to all the aid given by the Western World and more to the developing world. Therefore, I was pleased to be able to back the Christian Aid campaign to insist that in our supply chain we drive out any tax dodging and tax avoidance.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answers so far. I welcome the initiative on tax compliance. I introduced a similar policy through Belfast City Council in 2015 with Christian Aid, and I hope that can act as a pilot for it.

Does the Minister believe that, in the context of the Executive not adequately investing in skills, education and infrastructure, thereby not creating all the conditions for jobs, his proposed corporation tax cut would represent tax justice on the principles he has laid out this afternoon?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt do Chomhalta eile as Deisceart Bhéal Feirste. The South Belfast field is getting very crowded this afternoon.

On tax fairness, I am amazed that my colleague did not bring up her colleagues tonight opposing rates fairness by organising a meeting in South Belfast partly to scaremonger but also to set their face against a fair rating system. One would have thought that the socialist part of the SDLP would have said that those who were better off pay a little more, that anyone who is asset-rich but cash-poor does not have to pay any increase in their rates and that anyone who is on benefits does not have to pay their rates. Instead, the approach of Alasdair McDonnell and Mr Boyle — Mr Boyle, of course, is in the newspapers every day for other reasons, and I have brought his name up previously — is to organise against rates fairness and try to scaremonger.

I suppose that the thing that surprises me is that the Member for South Belfast has been silent on that when we needed her to take a stand, as I have, and say, "Even though it is my constituency, everyone should pay their fair dues. It is wrong for people who are less well-off to subsidise the very rich". That has spoken volumes this week. I do not know how the SDLP's attempt tonight to organise votes against me in South Belfast and scaremonger will go, but I stand behind the principle of fairness in taxation and rates. I hope that, when those who have been active in this in Belfast City Council and other places go into the rooms and say what they have done, they will also say, "This is how I failed to stand up for fairness in the rating system".

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

I advise Members and the Minister that it would be helpful if we stuck to the item being asked about in the question.