1995 - 1998
As its seventy fifth year approached, Irish Revenue had come a long way since Commissioner Flynn travelled to the 1923 League of Nations Conference in Geneva. While the early years were influenced by the euphoria of an independent State, organisational and economic integration were now seen as the way forward in a more unified Europe. These were reflected in Revenue's active participation in EU programmes for harmonisation and closer co-operation. The Matthaeus Customs and Taxes Programmes, while laying the ground rules for common EU training, also initiated exchange visits between Revenue officials of the member States. Other EU sponsored programmes saw Irish Revenue officials giving of their expertise to developing countries including Mongolia, Moldova and Uzbekistan.
In the fight against drugs Revenue played a significant part in the inter-Departmental discussions which, following the death of journalist Veronica Guerin, resulted in the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) in 1996. Revenue prepared the legislation to set up the Bureau and have provided Tax and Customs officials to participate with Gardaí and others in the CAB team.
While many Revenue officials travel in the course of their duties, this is not confined to two legged officials. The famous Jake, who had been dognapped from Rosslare and later found alive and well, received a gold medal for his efforts at an award ceremony in London. Irish Revenue also went global on the Internet in 1996. But it was more than surfing for Revenue people that year when the Annual Report for 1995 marked the results of their dedication. The compliance programmes, along with the upturn in economic growth, had netted an all time high of £10,887m.
As technology dismantled old boundaries, Revenue was also coming closer to its objective of a more unified structure. Going a long way towards meeting this objective was the merging of C&E departmental grades with those of the General Service on January 1st, 1996. While these integration discussions were in progress, a seminar titled Customs and Trade in Partnership was also taking place in Dublin Castle. Hosted by Irish Revenue, under the aegis of the EU Matthaeus Programme, the seminar's purpose was to explore and develop partnership with trade interests. In this field, Revenue has many Memoranda of Understanding with shipping companies, freight forwarders, the chemical/pharmaceutical industry and other organisations.
In that year, Jack Charlton's Irish team narrowly missed making contact with the European Nations Cup finals. Riverdance, the Irish music and dance extravaganza, received world acclaim and proved that the country was very much on its toes. The Revenue Board were also very much on their toes as they began an innovative programme of visiting different offices around the country. Meanwhile, the local collection initiative was revamped and facilities like payment by instalment and direct debit could now be offered to secure future compliance. Enforcement powers, including referral for solicitor or sheriff action, were also devolved. Like most major Revenue initiatives in recent years, the local collection initiative was driven by the latest in computer developments. The main engine of these was the launch of the CONTAX project which will eventually provide integrated computer systems to consolidate all the customer's tax affairs (PAYE, VAT etc.). From CONTAX sprang, at an early stage, the Active Intervention Management system that was to become the lynchpin of Revenue's collection and compliance programmes.
Systems for common registration, proactive intervention in problem cases and improved management information were already in place. Advances were also being made on the ambitious Integrated Taxation Processing (ITP) which will provide an integrated solution for assessing, forms issue, tax returns, payment processing and the main collection activities for all the major taxes. Another spin-off from the CONTAX project was the opening of the Taxes Central Registration Office where a new business could register for all its Revenue dealings in the one location. From those early days in Áras Bhrugha, Information Systems Division has come a long way with pioneering work on new systems, most of which are developed in-house.
Negotiation of Double Tax Treaties with other countries continued apace, with the total of such treaties reaching thirty. The Chief Inspectors Office began to gear up for the implementation of a more active prosecution policy in cases of serious tax evasion.
While Irish Revenue was advancing, the country was achieving the highest honours in other fields. At the Atlanta Olympics, Michelle Smith won three Golds and a Bronze in the swimming events - the first time an Irish competitor had reached such heights. In the same year, Séamus Heaney followed the footsteps of W.B. Yeats to Stockholm when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. In the intervening years Irish literary giants, Shaw and Beckett, had also conquered this Everest of literature.
1996 saw more fruits of ISD's labours in the vineyards of computerisation with the Binding Tariff Information system and the paperless Single Administrative Document, followed by the electronic tariff. And it was only a little over thirty years since the Brussels Nomenclature had come on stream and less since Revenue's first venture into the world of technology.
That year saw the untimely death in service of Commissioner Cassells. While his memory is stamped on various innovative projects, he will be especially remembered for his major input to the introduction of Self Assessment. The new Commissioner was Frank Daly. A native of Abbeyside, Co. Waterford, he had spent most of his career in Customs & Excise where he was actively involved in setting up many new systems, including CAP control and AEP. Latterly, as head of Corporate Management Division and Accountant General, he had spearheaded Revenue's initiatives in corporate planning.
In 1996, Ireland's term of EU Presidency saw many successful conclusions reached, including ratification of the decisions taken at the Customs 2000 seminar in Dublin in 1993. The year culminated with Commissioner Quigley, on behalf of Revenue, receiving the Institute of Small and Medium Size Enterprises (ISME) award to the Public Sector. This was in recognition of Revenue's efforts in customer services and minimising costs on small enterprises.
1997 saw Revenue's decentralisation programme successfully completed with the official opening of Limerick's Sarsfield House. Another onerous undertaking was also finalised when the Taxes Consolidation Act was passed through the Oireachtas. Consolidating the voluminous legislation on Income Tax, Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax, the Act was welcomed by traders and tax practitioners. This project, under the overall control of Revenue, continued the tradition of involving the best available expertise from the relevant sectors. The core team, under Commissioner Dermot Quigley, included private sector consultants, Alan Moore and Marie Moore, along with Revenue experts. They were assisted by a team of distinguished private sector and Revenue referees. The signature into law of the Taxes Consolidation Bill was one of the first tasks of the newly elected Uachtarán na h-Éireann - Mary McAleese.
The launch of an integrated Revenue training programme was a further step towards the new millennium. An even bigger step was the team effort from all strands of the organisation that compiled Revenue's Statement of Strategy (1997/1999), described by the Minister of Finance 'as a model for the Public Service'. But team effort is nothing new to Revenue. The consolidation of official structures was also being mirrored in social/sporting activities. The Tom Tuathaigh and Mick Wall football competitions afforded opportunities for Revenue people to socialise. Dalymount Day, finale of the competitions is now Revenue's biggest social/sporting event. That Irish Revenue can match anyone, any place, was proved in 1993 in France when our joint football and tennis delegation achieved third place in the 14-nation inter-Revenue Tournoi de Vichy. On another front a pan-Revenue team of veteran footballers captured the Lupton Cup in a series of matches against Revenue teams from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997. This is the first time in sixty years that the Lupton Cup has been won by Ireland.
While the Office of the Revenue Commissioners over its seventy five years has changed and adapted to the challenges presented, it has remained constant to its mandate. And it still has its poets, writers, dreamers, achievers and plenty of challenges as we face into the new millennium. The Office was founded as the Nobel Prize was awarded to W.B. Yeats to whom we leave the last words:
"What they undertook to do
They brought to pass ..."