Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): Turning to the work programme, Deputy McDonald has raised a question regarding the Revenue Commissioners and the recent controversy.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I spoke to you, Chairman, and the Clerk of the Committee, about the revelations regarding HSBC and 350 deposit holders with deposits of in excess of €3 billion. We understand that the Revenue Commissioners have recovered €4.55 million by way of tax settlement.
I am anxious that we contact the Revenue Commissioners to ask them for a detailed briefing on these matters and that we then invite them to appear before the committee so we can examine the matters with them. I wish to make that formal proposal.
Deputy Joe Costello: I support what Deputy McDonald has proposed. It is a major scandal that over €3 billion in the accounts of over 350 Irish citizens would be in a bank of this nature, which is very questionable in the manner in which it operates.
A similar situation has transpired in Britain, where over 1,000 British citizens were in the same situation. HM Revenue and Customs have collected approximately £135 million in that country. The small amount that appears to have been collected is causing major issues.
The Revenue Commissioners would have had access to the information almost five years ago and have operated in private in all the investigations that have taken place. We do not know the extent of the investigations.
We know the extent of the findings, which is that 22 account holders produced €4.5 million. That is from 350 clients and over €3 billion in cash. One is the subject of a criminal investigation. I understand there is also only one criminal investigation in the United Kingdom. In addition, this bank, HSBC, has over 500 subsidiaries which are largely in tax havens. Has that been chased up?
There are major questions to be answered. I agree that we should get a full and frank report on the matter and that we invite the Revenue Commissioners to appear before the committee on this issue.
Deputy John Deasy: First, I do not believe there is anything wrong with having an account in HSBC. Second, before we ask the Revenue Commissioners to appear before the committee we should ask them for the report and then make our decision.
The Revenue Commissioners have proven to be quite adept at dealing with tax evasion and tax avoidance over the past 20 years. At least we should give them the opportunity to explain the issues. It might not be the case that there is tax avoidance or evasion in some of these cases or that criminality is involved.
At the very least we should allow them to put together a briefing note for the committee before we make a decision about a public hearing.
Chairman: That is the proposal, that we seek the information and make a decision arising from that. They have to make clear to us the number of account holders, the number investigated by the Revenue Commissioners for suspicion of tax evasion, the number who have been prosecuted, the settlements and the amount involved, including penalties, the resources that were dedicated to examine HSBC and include a note on the way in which the information was obtained in the first place.
All of that is relevant information that should be sought by the committee, because there is a need to clarify matters for the general public who have simply read the reports in the newspapers. It says something about the work of public accounts that the Public Accounts Committee in the UK is meeting to discuss this issue and it has staff from HM Revenue and Customs appearing before it.
I agree with seeking the report. However, when the news broke initially there might have been a letter from this committee or, perhaps, it should have been a proactive approach by the Revenue Commissioners to say, "This is what we have done. We know you might be concerned about it", and to set the case out before us.
When the Clerk of the Committee writes to the Revenue Commissioners he should say that we need this information as soon as possible. The information has been compiled over the last number of years, although it has only become public now, so it should be to hand. They should send us a comprehensive report on the matter as soon as possible.
If it could be done within a week, which I believe it can, we could deal with it at our meeting next Thursday and decide after that.