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Kenny aide denies bank lobby group calling shots on budgets

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny's chief civil servant has insisted that a lobby group of bankers with "very high level access" is not calling the shots on budgetary decisions.

The International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) Clearing House group – which includes AIB, Bank of Ireland and Citigroup – gets to meet in private with government officials four or five times per year.

It had 21 of its recommendations, such as providing tax breaks for foreign executives based here, implemented in last year's Budget.

Department of the Taoiseach Secretary General Martin Fraser admitted that the "bulk" of the group's recommendations had been adopted in the Finance Act which implemented the Budget. But he said even though the group had very high level access, it was not "all- powerful".

"The Clearing House group gets more credit than it deserves for some of these things. It's still up to the Finance Minister to decide what goes into the Finance Act," he said.

Mr Fraser told the Oireachtas Finance Committee that the key aim of the IFSC Clearing House group was to promote the creation of financial services jobs – with a target of 10,000 extra jobs by 2016.

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However, Labour TD Kevin Humphreys said it appeared that the recommendations of the group were being adopted "lock, stock and barrel". And Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said the group had unprecedented influence on government policy.

The other members of the IFSC Clearing House group include Bank of America, Barclays, KPMG, Deloitte, and Ernst and Young.

The relationship between the Government and powerful corporations is under intense scrutiny due to criticism of Ireland as a "tax haven" in the US Senate

Mr Fraser said that the country was currently caught in the crossfire with major domestic interests at play in other countries – in a reference to the political pressure in the US to get its multinationals like Apple and Google to pay more tax at home.

"We're not a tax haven. We have transparency and we have international tax agreements with 60-odd countries," he said.

Mr Fraser acknowledged that he was aware of the criticism of heavy regulation of financial services by former Taoiseach John Bruton, who is an ambassador for the IFSC. But he said the IFSC Clearing House group was not being used to put pressure on the Financial Regulator.

Irish Independent