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Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013: Second Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen] Let us make no mistake about it. This is one of the consequences of the dangerous, adversarial and contemptuous approach taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality towards An Garda Siochána. In light of these issues, it has been suggested that consideration could be given to creating a similar system to that used for speed-checking cameras whereby the detection of motor tax evasion could be contracted out to a private firm. Alternatively, given that many of the country's tolls record the registration number of vehicles passing through them, it might be possible to use this information with appropriate legislative foundation.

Enforcement brought forward by legislation is the key to the successful implementation of this Bill. The prospect of charging for off-the-road certificates has been raised. It will be not included in the initial years, as was said earlier. It would be deeply unfair for drivers to be charged for non-operative vehicles that are not used on the roads. I ask the Minister to remove that from the proposals before the House.

The Bill also provides for transitional financial arrangements following the transfer of the driving licence function from licensing in local authorities to the Road Safety Authority, RSA. We know the RSA took over responsibility from local authorities in January 2013 following the introduction of the new plastic card driving licence. Pending finalisation of the transfer process, there is a transition process during which local authorities will continue to provide certain driving licence services. While my party supports the EU directive which standardises driving licences across the Continent for obvious conformity and security benefits, the removal of the role of local authorities reflects the broader emasculation of local government. We have seen in recent times the difficulties faced in SUSI with regard to third-level grants and the centralisation of the medical card function and now the prospect of the driving licence generates the same fears and anxieties in many people throughout the country and those of us who receive representations in that regard.

An example of the losses that may emanate can be found in Cork County Council which offered an on-the-spot licence renewal system that will now be lost with centralisation. It is important that we recognise the benefits that local flexibility can bring and not opt for knee-jerk centralisation. As I contemplate my reaction to this Bill and that specific area, I am conscious of the many forms of value for money audits that are taking place and the effort to rectify the financial situation involving looking microscopically at every facility and service. It might do much with regard to a balance sheet but it has not enhanced our society and rural sustainability. I am conscious of the loss of Garda stations in my own constituency in places like Ballinahown, Shannonbridge and Geashill and the potential loss of rural schools because the Minister has confirmed that the value-for-money audit in which his Department is engaged recommends four as the optimum number of teachers per school. No decision has been made in that regard but it is being brought to Cabinet and I would expect the Minister of State and his colleagues to win the day and not allow that policy to become a reality. There are 13 such schools in my constituency and county of Offaly that need the clarification required to allow them to continue to play the role they have played in times past. We have seen the reduction in social welfare hours and closures of social welfare offices and facilities.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes The Deputy is straying from the Bill.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen We are straying but are staying with the general thrust of Government policy contained in this Bill as it is in other facets of Government. Dental facilities have been lost, tourism offices have been closed and primary schools have been cancelled in different locations. I look forward to debating this weekend our efforts to regain the ground of rural sustainability and highlighting, as I am doing now, my belief and that of many of my constituents that the Government's disregarding of many facilities and services that are the lifeblood of rural communities must be reversed. It does not give me great pleasure to do so but it is something I must do as a rural Deputy. While the Minister of State might show his colleagues in Brussels and elsewhere the benefits this has given to the financial profit and loss account or balance sheet of Ireland Inc., it is having a grave effect on society as we know it. I apologise for straying.

I have two more recommendations in respect of this issue. Will the Minister provide a mechanism in this legislation whereby taxation could be paid by direct debit? I do not think there is any provision in legislation for that at present. Many people pay their motor tax periodically, be it on a half-year basis or every quarter. I spoke to someone this morning who told me it cost a further €60 or €70 to pay it periodically every quarter as opposed to the full year. Given today's climate and pressures and the difficulties many people face putting cars on the road, be it for insurance or tax, an opportunity has arisen through this legislation to make an insertion to allow people to do so and not be penalised for making periodic payments on a regular basis.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis Tax evasion is a serious crime. It is essentially theft from the public purse and involves taking from the funds of the nation in order to further enrich oneself and denying funding for vital services without which no one could reasonably make a living or enjoy a decent standard of living. Of course, we face a significant problem in this State because the public purse has been opened up to the troika and the banks and billions of euro of the people's money has been squandered on bailouts of debt which were never the people's debt and never their responsibility. Quite reasonably, people now look at their tax bill, income tax, PRSI, VAT, motor tax and others taxes and wonder as they look at cuts in essential services in the social safety net where all this money is going and what benefit they get from these taxes. There is still great benefit from the taxes we pay but, understandably, the value for money people are getting is more in question and taxes are under more scrutiny by the public. That is why a desire to promote public confidence and to be fair must underpin any tax code. The Government has already got this wrong on many occasions, not least with the unfair property tax.

I do not believe the current motor tax code is fair. Sinn Féin believes it needs reform and we have put forward that point in debate on the recent motor tax Bill before the House. Today, we are discussing a move to close a gap which allows some people to avoid tax or to reclaim tax paid wrongfully. We support this general purpose although I do take issue with some sections of the Bill which I will elaborate on.

As highlighted in the excellent Bills digest compiled by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, based on a study from 2010 and 2011, evasion of motor tax is estimated as being approximately 5%. This represents an annual revenue loss of about €50 million at present. This figure of €50 million pales in comparison to the many billions of euro of untapped wealth in this State which the Government has refused to tackle even slightly, instead focusing on the poor and low earners. That does not mean people should be allowed to shirk their responsibility to pay for the roads and other services they use but I feel some perspective is required. The method of closing this gap by introducing a prospective instead of retrospective requirement would seem to make sense. This will end the practice of people claiming falsely that cars were off the road for a period when the car was not taxed.

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