THE State is to gain access to the names of Irish citizens who hold secret Swiss bank accounts.
Switzerland has long been famous for its banking secrecy but it will start handing over the names and addresses of any Irish residents holding bank accounts there next year when a new agreement is officially signed.
Under the agreement, the Revenue will have the power to seek details of any Irish citizen who held a Swiss bank account over the past five years. It has confirmed it will impose taxes and penalties if interest on the account has not been paid up.
But it is too early to say if it will result in a windfall for the State, which has recovered around €500m in penalties and unpaid interest from hidden bank accounts in the past.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has confirmed that the State recently concluded negotiations with Switzerland on a Protocol to the Ireland Switzerland Double Taxation Convention.
"This protocol includes the new OECD Article on Exchange of Information which will enable information to be obtained by the Revenue Commissioners in relation to bank accounts held by Irish residents in Switzerland," he said.
All Irish citizens with bank accounts in Switzerland are obliged to pay tax on the interest they earn.
Labour TD Tommy Broughan, who raised the issue in the Dail, said it was critical to collect all available taxes.
"Certainly these people should pay up. In terms of equity, there are pensioners and carers and people on disability benefit who are facing the threat of lower benefits," he said.
Two years ago, it emerged that one of the two Dublin solicitors who admitted operating a secret €32m slush fund to deliberately evade tax had a Swiss bank account with his wife.
Henry Colley, son of the late Fianna Fail deputy leader, George Colley, was suspended from practising as a solicitor for a year.
The British government is now on the verge of concluding an agreement with the Swiss government, which it estimates could raise £1bn (€1.17bn) in taxes on citizens with funds in Swiss bank accounts which are beyond the reach of the UK exchequer.
The British government has been criticised for allowing those it discovers to escape without paying penalties.
However, Revenue sources emphasise that the forthcoming agreement with the Swiss government will be entirely different and will result in penalties for any citizens discovered to have withheld interest payments to the exchequer.
Over the past decade, the Revenue collected around €225m from those who had not paid DIRT Tax on their savings, as well as €419m from bogus non-resident accounts and €109m from Ansbacher off-shore accounts.