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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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  3 o’clock

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy This family home tax is draconian, anti-family double taxation, which represents a blunt and brutal assault on family incomes with no sense of fairness or equity. When in Opposition, the Taoiseach said: "It is morally wrong, unjust and unfair to tax a person's home," with which I agree. However, he has now done a U-turn on this issue.

Families have been hammered by this and the previous Government. They are being forced to pay for a recession the creation of which they had no hand, act or part in, and to pay this tax. These are the same families whose PRSI, child benefit and back-to-school clothing and footwear payments were cut in the recent budget. Many of these families have also had their respite care grants cut. It is not they that will not pay this tax; they cannot pay it.

As stated previously, a recent credit union survey indicated that 1.85 million people in this country have less than €100 per week left after essential bills have been paid; 630,000, or 18% of people, have no money left and 245,000, or 7%, have less than €20 left after paying essential bills, while 42% of people have had to borrow money during the past 12 months to pay bills. These are the families that are being asked to pay this shameful and disgraceful tax. They are the same families who are in mortgage distress and whose homes are in negative equity. They are the same families who paid enormous stamp duty on their homes and who are paying management fees at disgracefully high rates to management companies in this city and in other cities and towns.

There is no link between ability to pay and payment of this tax and no exemption for low-income families. While the Bill provides for deferrals, it is a sham. Also, it is a deferral with a penal rate of interest.

It is proposed that local authority tenants and tenants of voluntary housing agencies will be liable for this tax. As other speakers have said, Respond! and other voluntary housing agencies have confirmed that if they are required to pay this tax they will end up in severe financial difficulties and some may have to close. They will have no choice but to pass on this tax and, in the case of voluntary housing agencies, the €90 per house registration to the tenancies board, to families and to tenants.

There were other choices, many of which have been outlined in this House during the past month and even the past number of years. If the Labour Party had any sense of decency or commitment to the founders of its party it would have this Bill withdrawn immediately.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I, too, welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. From where do the mandarins in the Department of Finance, who came up with the figure of €500 million, expect this money to come? It is not possible to get blood from a stone. The Government is being awfully generous in the exemption under section 7 from this tax in respect of accommodation provided to persons who by reason of old age, physical or mental disability or other cause require special accommodation and support. It should take a bow. Those in Government are wonderful people. That their generosity knows no bounds is demonstrated by the fact that they have opted not to throw such people into pauperism and back into the soup kitchens and poor houses. Cromwell once said, "To hell or to Connacht." We now have the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, saying "To hell or back to the homeless agencies or the soup kitchens". This Government will drive people into penury. There will be no place for members of the Government to hide. They, too, have to return to their constituencies and meet the people. When in Opposition, the Taoiseach said it was morally unjust to tax a person's home. What has gotten into him, and in such a short time? The Taoiseach has been a Member of this House for an awful lot longer than I have but he seems to have lost all connection with the ordinary people whom he, like the rest of us, was elected to represent. It is not too long ago the Taoiseach was on this side of the House telling those in Government what they were doing wrong.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne Including Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Yes. I accept that. I too made mistakes, but if one does not make mistakes one learns nothing. However, when on the opposite side of the House the Taoiseach thought he knew it all. We also had the gospel according to Saint Eamon then. Every day, the high priest, Deputy Gilmore, would preach from the high altar. According to him, it was Labour's way and not Frankfurt's way. He also told us that hellfire would not be hot enough to burn the bondholders.

The introduction of this tax is outrageous. I am the chairman of a voluntary housing association. Low-income families in non-profit housing have been singled out to pay the local property tax. This tax on social housing will have long-term consequences for the ability of non-profit housing associations to continue to provide housing to the most vulnerable. At a recent meeting of the board of which I am chairman I was told by the volunteers, all of whom who are older than I am and have worked hard to provide people with homes, that they were going to walk away. Why would volunteers do this while the mandarins and elected representatives are enforcing penury on people? There are many flood-damaged houses in Clonmel and others which are affected by pyrite. The owners of these houses, who cannot obtain insurance cover on them, are being asked to pay this property tax on top of the stamp duty they have paid and the service charges they continue to pay.

Members of the Government need to have a chat with their constituents and then among themselves, and then come back in here next week and take this tax off the shoulders of the people, because it is one tax too many. I hate using the word "hunchbacks" - it is a horrible term - but the Government has driven the people into penury and into the ground. Next Monday, there will be an estimates meeting in my local county council. As a result of its failed attempts to collect rates, it is obliged to consider reducing them. We now have another arm of government voting in more charges. This is the asylum, being run by the lunatics. Have respect for ordinary people, please.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny The next speaker is Deputy Olivia Mitchell, who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Seán Kyne and Catherine Byrne.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell If there were no troika, I would still support the principle of a property tax. I believe there should be a firm and direct link between the service and the payment. We would all get better services if this were the case. I believe that had a property tax been introduced ten years ago we would never have had the property bubble and we might now be better able to afford to pay this tax. We need a stable tax source which does not fluctuate widely with the economic cycle and is not a disincentive to work. I also believe that we should not continue to put the burden of the provision of local services on the business community, as we have been increasingly doing for years.

I mention the above points to emphasise that in terms of what I have to say about this property tax I am coming from the perspective of someone who is supportive of the principle. This tax is a gross injustice to the people of Dublin and, to a lesser extent, people in other urban areas. It is an injustice because the method of calculation is based solely on the value of the property, with no reference to the cost of supply of local services. It is not a local service tax, nor is it a regional tax; it is a national property tax placing a single rate on all properties across the full spectrum of property values throughout the country from Dublin to Kerry and up to Donegal. Inevitably, such a valuation system opens a huge gap between the amount to be paid by those who own a large house and those who do not. However, this is not the gap to which I am objecting. I object to the gap between the amount to be paid on two precisely similar houses in different parts of the country, with, of course, the higher sum being paid by Dublin home owners. I do not object to a person in Dublin with a big house paying more than a person in Dublin who owns a smaller house. That is reasonable. I do, however, vehemently object to the owner of the small house in Dublin having to carry a multiple of the liability of the owner of a larger house elsewhere, whether it is in Leitrim, Donegal or anywhere else. The valuation method that has been chosen has nothing to do with the cost of local services. People have said to me that those in Dublin have better services than those in rural Ireland. Maybe we do; I do not know. If it is true, we will pay for them. We need only to be told what they are and, together with the business community, we will pay rates and reasonable property tax. That is not what this Bill proposes. It does not propose that we pay only for costs in Dublin but that we also pay towards the cost of services for everybody else. This is because people living outside Dublin in rural Ireland are lucky enough to be able to purchase their homes at a much more favourable, lower price.

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