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Monday 14 October 2019

Fraser challenged on absent reports

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett

A top civil servant has been challenged over absent reports and minutes from meetings of a financial lobby group with access to the highest level of Government.

Martin Fraser, secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach, insisted the IFSC Clearing House Group operates with complete transparency and fairness.

But he was unable to provide an Oireachtas committee with minutes from meetings between government and the group's lobbyists who represent some of the world's largest financial companies and banks.

"The more transparency about these things, the better as far as I'm concerned," Mr Fraser told the cross-party committee.

The secretary general chairs the main group meetings, which take place in Government Buildings, and provided the committee with records of them.

But he said he would have to "clarify" whether there were minutes published from a number of more minor meetings - or sub-group meetings - that took place without him. "Any meeting where there is an official, there must be a report," he said.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was unusual that the minutes showed very little input from the lobbyists, with regard to issues such as corporation tax and financial transaction tax. He suggested lobbyists had their real discussions in "side groups", of which there appeared to be little record.

The Clearing House Group, which has been operating for nearly 30 years, claims its mission is to develop and create jobs within Ireland's International Financial Services Sector (IFSC).

When Taoiseach Enda Kenny came in to office two years ago, he unveiled a strategic plan to create 10,000 positions within the IFSC. It has been claimed that the group wields significant influence over the Government with regards to policy decisions and financial matters - including the introduction of certain tax incentives for businesses and the state's opposition to European plans to introduce a financial transaction tax.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said it was unfair the group, made up of the biggest hitters in the financial markets, had "unprecedented structured access" to the highest levels of Government. He said: "This is the kind of established trick that lobbyists in other industries could only hallucinate about. This is corporate Government."

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