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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 Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald] There are families throughout this country, in urban and rural areas and across the classes, which, by virtue of having bought family homes, are trapped in a real nightmare of debt and of trying to muddle through, perhaps on an interest-only or other restructured arrangement. There is a need for a reality check. It must be stated repeatedly that this tax is wrong and also that it is crazy and irrational, especially as those whom the Government wants to pay it cannot do so.

This is not a measure which broadens the tax base. If the Government was truly broadening the tax base, it would be seeking to open up a new revenue stream from new sources. Of course, that is not what the measure before the House will do. Under this measure, the Government will return to the same families which find themselves in very difficult circumstances, put its hand in their pockets and say "We want some more". It is picking the pockets of the very people who carry the burden of taxes and charges and who are expected to adapt to the various cutbacks. I query any argument to the effect that this measure involves a broadening of the tax base. I just do not believe that such an argument stands up to scrutiny.

Deputy Donohoe referred to progressivity and to the mansion tax. If the latter is the token gesture towards progressivity, well then God help us all. The mansion tax issue entered the equation simply because the Labour Party unfortunately lost the argument in respect of the imposition of higher levels of income tax on those who earn in excess of €100,000. I presume the Minister, Deputy Noonan, was chief among those who resisted this very reasonable and fair proposition. It is not progressive to hammer people for more tax on their family homes when, as policymakers, those in government are aware that the individuals I referred to are struggling just to meet their weekly bills. There is nothing progressive in that.

It is interesting to note that very few waivers will be on offer. The deferral for which provision is made is almost like a stay of execution for people. It is as if the Government were saying: "We want your money, which you cannot give us now. However, we will lie in wait for it up to and including your death and the disposal of your property. We will come and get our cash then." This is an astonishingly callous approach. The fact that those in government could not even find the wherewithal to provide a comprehensive schedule of waivers speaks to the fact that they are deluded.

The Government had choices. The Labour Party knows that there are such choices but that when reference was made to them, a deaf ear was turned. I very much regret that. Let us not pretend that choices do not exist. The Government could choose to tax wealth, for example. That would be a fair choice, particularly in the current climate. Notwithstanding the economic collapse, we know there is still considerable wealth. The Central Bank's quarterly accounts for Ireland released in August show that net household wealth in this country in the first part of this year was in the region of €447 billion. Even taking account of the fact that wealth has been undermined, degraded and reduced year on year and that the figure might be slightly lower as 2013 approaches, there is no doubt there are substantial holdings of wealth.

If the Government is serious about broadening the tax base and creating new revenue streams and if it has the cop-on to understand that in raising revenue, one should not take actions which further damage the domestic economy and kill off confidence and spending power, it would consider the concept of a wealth tax rather than taxing family homes. The major political question which arises is why those in government have so stubbornly turned their faces away from that option, particularly when wealth taxes are accepted and levied and are standard policy in so many other European countries. We are not asking the Minister, Deputy Noonan, to break new ground here. Why does he so steadfastly refuse to consider, cost and investigate a wealth tax? The Minister has been extremely cavalier when it came to smacking another charge on people's family homes.

I am very conscious of the fact that we are discussing these matters in a very short timeframe and that this debate is taking place so close to Christmas. For very good reasons, people's thoughts are elsewhere because they are making preparations for themselves and their families in respect of the holiday season. I get the sense that those at leadership level within the Government may be assuming that this measure will be rushed through the Dáil, that it will send its Deputies back to their constituencies with the deal done, that they can retire to their homes and eat their turkey and ham and that everything will be done and dusted. I put them on notice that as the new year dawns, as the reality of the social welfare, health and education cutbacks hits home and as working class and middle income, middle class families do the maths on their domestic budgets, they are going to come under considerable pressure in respect of this matter. This will not be a result of the fact that people do not want to pay their taxes. Let us put that one to bed. People will pay their fair share of tax, especially as they know we are in a very difficult economic position. We are all grown ups and we all get that. However, the people know they cannot give the Government what they do not have and that it is not possible to take blood from a stone. They also know the real meaning of that four letter word "fair". This word has been gravely abused by the Government. This tax on the family home is not fair and the dogs in the street know it.

A demonstration against this charge took place outside the gates of Leinster House earlier this afternoon. I was approached by one of the protestors, a man from Wexford, who asked me to tell the Minister something. I stress that this individual is not a Sinn Féin voter. He asked me to inform the Minister that he pays his taxes and will continue to do so. He also wants the Minister to know that, as far as his family is concerned, the budget is very tough medicine to take. What he wanted me to tell the Minister most of all is that placing a charge on his family home - along with everything else that has been imposed - means that this matter has now moved from the political to the personal. I suspect that this man and many more like him will be outside the gates of Leinster House and Members' constituency offices in the near future saying they cannot pay this charge, that the Minister should be fair and reasonable and that he should tax wealth and not the family home.

Deputy Brendan Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. There are many different aspects of it about which I could speak but I propose to focus on one. My colleagues, Deputies Kevin Humphreys and Robert Dowds, will address some of the other issues to which I refer.

As the Minister is aware and as he indicated earlier, there are many houses in north County Dublin, Leinster and throughout the country which have been affected by pyrite.

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