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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The decision to introduce a property tax was originally signed up to by the Deputy's party with a view to raising €530 million in 2014. The tax as originally proposed by that party was unfair. This is an issue that is central to the memorandum of understanding, and the Government has decided to introduce it on the basis of a levy of 0.18% on the value of the property and, in the case of houses worth €1 million or more, a higher charge on the portion above that value. There is a recognition of the challenges many people face in this regard. The inclusion of deferrals and the issue concerning pyrite have been referred to specifically by the Minister.

Deputy McGrath is well aware that in the past 20 years, commercial premises, including retail outlets and other businesses, have been hit every year by local authorities that had no wider tax base from which to run services and provide facilities for people. This measure was considered by Government on the basis of it being fair and progressive and with an understanding that there are challenges facing people. The timescale for the debate on the legislation was set out by the Government Whip at last week's Whips' meeting. As the Deputy is aware, the Revenue Commissioners have undertaken the mechanics, design and collection of the tax, with a view to ensuring that everybody will contribute. We are one of the last countries in Europe not to have a property tax. The vast majority of income from the tax will be retained by the local authorities for the provision of facilities and services for the people who pay it in the first instance. From that point of view, the Bill will proceed through this House and the Seanad, as outlined by the Government Chief Whip at the meeting last week.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath In his Budget Statement the Minister for Finance said that the Irish financial crisis could be summarised in the word "debt", consisting of both national debt and personal debt. For families who cannot pay their mortgage today, the Government's solution is to add more debt to the problem they already face. Only people in certain, very limited circumstances will be given the option of deferring the property tax. In effect, therefore, they are being asked to take on more debt and will be charged 4% per year for the privilege deferring their payment.

The Taoiseach has not answered a fundamental question. What is the need to rush this legislation through the House, given that it will not come into effect until July next year? The Bill raises a host of issues which will not be open to us to address satisfactorily in the very limited time available. We are expected to deal with 88 amendments in three and a half hours, which is three minutes per amendment. There is no need whatever for that. Will the Taoiseach show the House some respect by allowing adequate time for debate? There is no reason that we cannot return to the Bill in January and have a more mature and responsible debate that will allow us to address the clear and inherent anomalies and unfairness it contains.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy is well aware that towards the end of every parliamentary session, there is always pressure to get legislation through. The property tax is being organised and collected and the mechanics put in place by the Revenue Commissioners. A serious amount of co-ordination is required from them. As the Deputy rightly points out, the property tax is effective for a half-year next year. The mechanics of that have to be put in place from early in the new year. It is a fairer alternative to increasing income tax and putting a tax on jobs.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath Fine Gael gave an undertaking before the election not to introduce a property tax.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is a progressive tax in the sense that those who can afford it will pay more.

The Deputy referred to the challenge people face. The quarterly national accounts for the third quarter of 2012, released today, show GDP growing by 0.8% year on year and by 0.2% quarter on quarter. It is the first time since 2010 that private consumption has grown year on year. This is encouraging given that it is generally more labour intensive than export growth. It is good to see that sign of confidence returning.

Everybody understood that the Government would introduce a property tax, because of the memorandum of understanding and the requirement to widen the tax base.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath That is not what the Taoiseach said in the election last year.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There were fears, however, that it would amount to an enormous sum for households. With the rate set at 0.18%, people can at least plan what their contribution will be, both for the half-year in 2013 and the two subsequent years. After that the local authorities will have responsibility for the property tax.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Gan amhras, is buiséad millteanach, cruálach agus dona é buiséad 2013. Aontaím leis an Taoiseach faoi Fhianna Fáil ach ní féidir leis an locht a chur ar na daoine eile mar gheall ar bheartais an Rialtais seo. The CSO figures released today show that the economy contracted by 0.4% between July and September. It is clear that the economy is flat and this cruel budget will make matters worse. The Government is inflicting more debt and more hurt on households. To their shame, Government Deputies are voting for harsh cuts to child benefit and the respite care grant and forcing desperate householders to seek assistance from wonderful charities like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Barnardos and others. Today the Government will, with the minimum debate, impose the maximum debt on households by way of the family home tax.

This is not the only charge households are facing. I understand that patients, including cancer sufferers, will have to pay more next year for hospital stays. Meanwhile, waiting lists for operations grow longer as public services are starved of funding. At the same time, the Government has torn up its pledges on education. The increase in the pupil-teacher ratio from 17.1: 1 to 19.1: 1 for post-leaving certificate programmes is of particular concern. As a former teacher, the Taoiseach should be aware that this will result in the loss of hundreds of teaching posts and the cancellation of courses. Many young people who look to this process to progress beyond secondary education will be robbed of that chance. The Government talks about encouraging people to upskill and retrain in order to get a job, but the decisions it is taking totally subvert this. In my constituency of County Louth, there will be a loss of up to eight teaching posts in two further education colleges. I am sure it is the same throughout the State. Was this decision equality-proofed? Does the Taoiseach accept that it will see teaching posts lost, training courses closed down and job opportunities reduced?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Tá trí ní áirithe luaite ag an Teachta. In regard to the CSO figures and the state of the economy, I have already pointed out to Deputy Michael McGrath the quarterly results that were published today, showing that GDP grew by 0.8% year on year and by 0.2% in the third quarter of 2012.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy Adams's main question related to pupil-teacher ratios.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I repeat that private consumption grew year on year for the first time since 2010. This encouraging development is in line with the figures set out by the Department of Finance. Growth will continue in 2012 and in 2013 for the third consecutive year. As both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform pointed out in their budget presentations, we are making progress and are on the road to recovery in terms of our economic health, but there are serious challenges ahead.

The Deputy referred to cancer patients. Legislation that was enacted back in 1987 introduced an obligation for patients to pay a daily charge, which is currently set at €75 and capped at €750 or a maximum of ten days. In 2011 the Health Service Executive raised €50 million from that charge. As part of budget 2013 it was announced that the charge would be increased by €5 to €80. The charge applies to each inpatient or day-case patient. The fee is not connected to any particular disease or illness for which a person is being treated and no new charge for cancer patients was introduced here. I remind the House that the charge was increased annually by successive Fianna Fáil Governments in the period 2002 to 2009, with the exception of the election year of 2007, by an average of 12%.

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