Revenue Over the Years 1986 - 1994
Revenue's winds of change continued. PAYE customers were to exceed one million, self-employed taxpayers would surpass 200,000 and over one hundred thousand VAT repayment claims would be processed each year. In 1986, a forerunner to Revenue audit was introduced with the critical examination of accounts systems. The Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) was also introduced in that year.
The Chernobyl disaster brought home the fact that the world is a series of inter-dependent parishes. Another plague, from which Ireland was not immune, was drug abuse. Revenue's role in detecting illegal narcotics was enhanced. That no ill-will lingered in the canine world was proved when drug detector dogs took up duty without a bark of protest in 1986. Remember, the State's first new duty was an excise licence on dogs. The new Revenue sheriffs were also beginning to bite and the tide turned with increased collection compliance and more positive attitudes of taxpayers. Commissioner Curran became Chairman when Páircéir retired in 1987. Kerryman, Cathal Mac Domhnaill was appointed Commissioner. His career had been mainly in the Chief Inspector of Taxes area and later in Legislation where he was actively involved in much major change. His deep commitment to the value of customer service as a key factor in promoting voluntary compliance became a driving force for much of Revenue's modernisation and improved effectiveness in the 1990's.
While the first Irishman to win the Tour de France, Stephen Roche, was donning the winner's jersey, the Irish public was looking at hair shirts when it was revealed that one third of tax receipts were used to service the National Debt. The priority was to revive the economy. That October saw Black Monday when billions were lost on world markets.
The following year, Revenue opened two Local Enquiry offices in Dublin. C&E successes included Operation Scorpion which tackled fuel smuggling from Northern Ireland. The Single Administrative Document (SAD) replaced familiar Customs entry forms, in line with EU policy. Single was the theme of the late eighties when the Single European Act laid the basis for the completion of the Internal Market by 1992 and the Irish Customs & Excise Union (formerly PSA) amalgamated with the PSEU.
1988 also saw one of the most fundamental changes in Irish taxation and Revenue structures when Self- Assessment was introduced for Income Tax, followed by Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax. Self-Assessment was preceded by an interest and penalties Amnesty to clear old arrears and get taxpayers' affairs up to date. Over £500 million was collected for the Exchequer and many public tributes were paid to the professionalism of the Collector-Generals' staff.
Radical changes were also afoot in the Stamping Branch, which had in the past received international philately awards. The increased workload entailed by EU membership meant that it could now only meet Revenue's own requirements. Re-titled the Revenue Printing Centre, the Stamping Branch had its own distinctive entity and characters. Cormac O'Callaghan, recently retired Director of Revenue Printing, was to become synonymous with the Centre.
1989 saw some countries embrace old ways while others discarded them. Revenue heralded a new era of emphasis on voluntary compliance, improving communications and increasing public confidence. Stronger focus on customer service was reflected in Revenue's new Charter of Rights. Displayed in public offices, the Charter informed customers of their rights when transacting business with Revenue. This initiative was to set the trend for other areas of the Irish public service as did Revenue's new-look Annual Report.
That year, Commissioner Reason retired and Frank Cassells joined the Board. A Dubliner, Cassells had worked in the Taxes area and was a driving force in the introduction of Self Assessment. The following year, Commissioner Mac Domhnaill was appointed Chairman on Curran's retirement. Another Dubliner, Dermot Quigley, who had worked in the Department of Finance, was appointed Commissioner. An expert on international fiscal matters, he had worked closely on a wide range of Budgetary and taxation matters with Revenue prior to his appointment.
After reviewing its functions in a rapidly-changing society, Revenue adopted its mission statement. Taking a more proactive role in media relations, Revenue established its own Press Office. Images of civil servants behind closed doors, issuing terse press-statements, were now only in the imaginations of script-writers. Continuing Revenue's tradition of consultation with its customers, the Tax Administration Liaison Committee (TALC) was established in 1989. It included taxation experts from Revenue and the private sector. Its main objectives were to simplify and consolidate existing tax practices and to provide a standing forum for exchange of views. The Customs Consultative Committee, comprised of commercial interests and Revenue people was also established and met frequently to discuss matters of common interest.
As Margaret Thatcher left UK politics, Mary Robinson was elected Uachtarán na h-Éireann. The euphoria at the Irish team's performances in Italia 90 culminated in a public reception on their return. Although more restrained, importers, agents and exporters welcomed Revenue's Automated Entry Procedure (AEP), which allowed electronic lodgement of Customs declarations. AEP was to transform Customs clearance in Ireland and become the envy of other administrations for years to come. 1990 also saw the launch of Tax Briefing, a quarterly information bulletin for tax practitioners.
Revenue's decentralisation programme began in 1991 with the Accountant General's Branch move to Ennis. The following year, sections of Customs & Residence Division relocated to Nenagh. The major move of the Collector-General's Division to Sarsfield House, Limerick, commenced on a phased basis. Intense planning was required to ensure that each move caused minimum disruption to customers and the Exchequer. Decentralisation attracted people from other civil service areas to Revenue. Training programmes were arranged to enable them carry out their new duties effectively. It is a credit to all concerned that the decentralisation programmes were successfully completed without any disruption to our services. Satisfaction at a task well done was tinged with sadness at the untimely death of Michael Barrett, former Collector-General, who had worked tirelessly on the project.
In accordance with the Forward Plan, organisational realignment along customer service, audit and compliance lines was started in the Taxes area. The customer service pace continued with the opening of the Central Revenue Information Office (CRIO) in Dublin's city centre in 1992. New powers were given to Revenue as part of its parallel anti-evasion drive. As Germany was united, Irish Revenue was coming to terms with the Single Market. 'No Frontiers', Mary Black's hit, almost summed up the situation with the abolition of frontier controls from January 1st, 1993 and major changes in VAT and Excise posing many challenges for Revenue. Management and trade unions together arrived at effective solutions to the staffing changes that were required. Some Revenue functions were relocated and the allocation of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) to Revenue provided productive work for many staff with new offices opening countrywide.
Extra resources also became available at local level to provide part-time assistance to the Collector-General's and the Chief Inspectors Office in Revenue compliance programmes. Two years later, these were to be revamped when the local collection initiative was launched. The abolition of frontier controls also provided personnel for the new Customs National Drugs Team (CNDT). A growing success story, CNDT works with other EU Customs Services/ Drug Enforcement Agencies and maintains close liaison with the Garda Síochána, Irish Defence Forces and Navy. 1993 ended with the major seminar 'Customs 2000', hosted by Ireland, in Dublin Castle. Sponsored by the European Commission, it discussed the role of EU Customs Services and the blueprint for modernisation, adopted at the meeting, set the direction for their future.
The Government's 1993 Amnesty was successfully implemented by Revenue and brought in some £260 million for the Exchequer. This Amnesty, which included the 15% Incentive Amnesty for pre-1991 income and gains, necessitated the setting up of the Office of the Chief Special Collector, sealed off from normal Revenue operations, to ensure completed confidentiality for taxpayers.
1994 saw peace possibilities in Northern Ireland. Revenue's first Assistant Secretaries Conference agreed on a draft corporate plan to co-ordinate the organisation's activities and set down strategic goals for the future. No mean task, considering the diverse scale of activities. The final version of the Plan (1994-1996), another first in the civil service, was near completion when the Government introduced the Strategic Management Initiative (SMI) for the public service. Strategic planning was to be the cornerstone of SMI. By 1995, Revenue's customer service record was second-to-none and its offices afforded comfort and privacy for taxpayers. Its range of forms and information leaflets was continually expanded and improved. Chairman Mac Domhnaill, a member of the Co-ordinating Group of Secretaries which did the groundwork on SMI, subsequently chaired the SMI Customer Service Group for all Government Departments and Offices.