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Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill 2012: Second Stage (Continued)

Friday, 14 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] Sinn Féin's wealth tax would be self-assessed and apply only to those with considerable wealth. It would, therefore, be cheaper to administer. The family home tax is on the gross value of the property, whereas, with Sinn Féin's proposal, all debts and liabilities would be taken into account.

There are almost no exemptions from the Government's family home tax, but Sinn Féin's proposal includes a considerable range of exemptions. The family home tax ignores the fact that there will be those who are asset rich and income poor. Sinn Féin's proposal, by contrast, includes safeguards for such cases.

The family home tax is designed to hit 1.9 million homes, irrespective of the financial circumstances of the families therein. Sinn Féin's proposal targets only those who can and should pay. The Government's proposal is unfair. It will push families deeper into financial hardship, debt and poverty and imake the mortgage crisis worse.

The Government's proposal will also hurt the economy. It will take money from those who are keeping the local economy alive. By taking money out of the pockets of those who spend all of their disposable income on local goods and services, the Government will further damage domestic demand. Jobs and tax revenue will be lost and the economy will suffer. The family home tax is bad for citizens, society and the economy. Sinn Féin will oppose it at every stage as it makes its way through the House. If it is introduced, we will campaign for its abolition.

The Government parties, when in opposition, promised that they would not introduce this tax. Once again, they have done a U-turn. It is not just a question of the Government's political shenanigans in the House because it is failing to understand people simply cannot afford to pay the tax. It is impossible for large sections of society to pay. Giving the Revenue Commissioners the power to dip into people's pay packets or social welfare payments is absolutely appalling.

I am sure the Minister of State and his colleagues have received letters of the kind I received in recent days from people suffering under the weight of the budgetary measures introduced thus far. Asking them to pay more is not acceptable. They simply cannot do so. I appeal to the Minister of State, even at this late stage, to consider other revenue generating options. The proposal will yield approximately €500 million in a full year. When one gets rid of the non-principal private residence tax, it will yield approximately €420 million. Sinn Féin has a proposal in this regard that was costed by the Department, that is, unless the Minister of State is willing to say his officials and the Minister for Finance are lying. Our proposal was-----

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes A parliamentary question.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Are responses to parliamentary questions false?

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes One parliamentary question is not going to-----

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Has the Minister for Finance misled the Dáil through responses to parliamentary questions?

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes The Deputy doubled the figure.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty No, we have not.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes The Deputy has.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty The figure is accurate.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes One parliamentary question - €800 million.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty That is not even a parliamentary question. The point I was going to make, if the Minister of State had listened, was that there were other proposals that could have been considered. Reference was made to increasing taxes on higher income earners. What about a gambling levy? When I was young, I used to walk to the bookmaker's for my father to place a bet. If one bet €10, one had to pay a levy of 10%. Why not introduce a gambling levy of 5%? The Department has stated this would yield €265 million. Why ask people who simply cannot pay any more to pay more because they have a roof over their heads? It just does not make sense.

While Sinn Féin will oppose this tax vigorously, it will propose a raft of amendments to counter the worst elements of this very harsh Bill and try to strengthen it to make it more fair for those on low and middle incomes, those in negative equity and in mortgage arrears and those who simply cannot pay. Let there be no doubt that our objective is to fight this legislation tooth and nail and campaign for the abolition of the tax.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes I know that.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley This is supposed to be a property tax Bill, but, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we would realise it is not such a Bill but one imposing a tax on the family home. The Bill gives new draconian powers to the Revenue Commissioners, allowing the Government to take money from wages, pensions, social welfare payments and even single farm payments. The powers in the Bill are unprecedented. The financial consequences of the Bill which have been alluded to, with the harsh budget, will force many families, including children, into poverty. They will force an increasing number of families into the arms of loan sharks. In the past 20 months we have seen a seamless transfer of policy from Fianna Fáil to Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Fianna Fáil's national recovery plan for the period 2011 to 2014, produced before the dying days of its Administration, outlined how the party was committed to introducing a household charge of €100 per annum. This was to lead to a property tax yielding a total of €530 million in 2014. It is the politics of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Let me use this opportunity to challenge some of the untruths propagated by the Taoiseach and, in particular, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. The Minister who is not present uses the last minute of each reply at Question Time to propagate misinformation to continue to mislead people about rates in the Six Counties. It is not for me or Sinn Féin, a republican party, to defend the six county state because we are committed to Irish reunification and having a 32 county republic. It is important, however, to know the facts. The Northern Assembly does not have fiscal powers and cannot increase or decrease taxes. Taxation is the preserve of Westminster. Yesterday the Tánaiste and the Minister did not even know that social welfare rates were set in London, on the next island.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes It is just as well.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley We are trying to change this. If the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, can give us any help in so doing, we will be glad of it.

We want fiscal independence from London and the support of the Irish Government in this regard. In the Six Counties rates are based on the valuation of one's home. They are used to fund both local and regional services in the North. The position is not dissimilar to that which obtained in this jurisdiction up to 1977. Crucially, in the Six Counties there are considerable reliefs for the disabled, earners of low incomes, recipients of housing benefit, pensioners, and zero and low-carbon homes. There is none of these exemptions in the Government's Bill.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency stated the average rates bill in the Six Counties was £789, not £1,400 or £2,000, as stated by the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore. I would have believed his officials would have known this because at times they would have gone north of the Border. If they did not do so to do anything useful, they did so to be involved in debating societies there. Another Minister claimed the rates bill was up to £2,000 in the North. This must be a reference to people who live on the Gold Coast of north County Down. I do not know too many who live there.

Rates allow for the provision of the following public facilities and services: education, including school books, transport and meals; emergency services, including fire services, for which we pay here; health care; housing; roads, on which there are no tolls; water and sewerage schemes; waste collection; desludging of septic tanks; a range of community services; arts events; environmental health services; leisure and tourism facilities; and waste management. By contrast, householders in this State must pay for all of these services separately out of their income.

Now that we have the facts, I want the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, and his fellow Ministers to refrain from spinning untruths about a part of Ireland they obviously do not know anything about. The home tax has been promoted by the Government, particularly the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, as a tax to fund local authorities and their services. The Government's budget, however, continues to starve local government of much needed funding. In a very cynical move, the charges outlined in the Bill will remain at the same level until after the local elections in 2014, at which time they will be increased.


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