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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 Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English] This simple measure would allow huge progress for schools like Rathmore national school. These schools are located on national routes throughout the country and one sees them in Mayo, Tipperary and elsewhere. They do not fit into the right box to get funding to solve a problem. In some cases, it is for speed limit checks, more signs or proper car parking. It is a sad irony that a school's location on a major national artery is a disability to it accessing important safety measures but that seems to the be case in this situation.

I urge the Minister to pursue this particular matter and I am happy to supply him with any further information from schools like Rathmore national school. With the money we will collect as a result of this Bill, we could target another area and solve another problem, which does not fit it any box currently.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne It goes without saying that fairness should be at the heart of everything we do in the national Parliament and the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013 will bring fairness to a situation of which most people are aware. The Bill will ensure fairness for those responsible citizens who pay their motor tax by closing a loophole which has enabled a minority to evade their obligations under the law. It is simply unfair that those citizens who do not pay their motor tax or who use the retrospective clause enjoy the use of the road network at the expense of those who pay.

It is estimated that the Exchequer is losing up to €50 million each year, and we must remember this is €50 million less to spend on the maintenance and upkeep of our roads. Figures compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor demonstrate that 1.1 million off the road exemption gaps were declared between 2008 and 2011. This represents a 40% increase and a total loss of €226 million for the State. A significant proportion of the exemptions were of course legitimate and sought by honest and genuine motorists but it is also likely that a significant percentage were sought for the sole purpose of evasion of this tax. Unfortunately, there appears to be some difficulty in determining the exact number of motor tax evasions. A constituent who recently contacted my office on the issue of motor tax quite rightly said technology exists which could play a greater role in enforcement. For example, technology at toll booths could actively assist the Garda in apprehending those who are evading their tax obligations.

In researching this topic, it is noteworthy that many of the changes proposed actually arise from the deliberations of the local government efficiency review group. This group comprised experts from the public and private sectors and carefully reviewed the array of local government areas. It is unfair to say the provisions of this Bill are not based on research and examination or represent a knee-jerk reaction.

However, concerns have been raised with me regarding a number of sections. For example, section 7(13) and (14) empower the Minister to prescribe a fee to accompany an unused declaration. I contend that in light of the fact we are already closing a loophole which would prevent tax evasion, we do not impose a charge. I was glad to hear the Minister of State say that the Government does not propose to introduce a fee at this time. Section 14 should be augmented with a new category of fee waivers for vintage vehicles. We must recognise the fundamental difference between cars used daily for all sorts of purposes and those vintage cars kept by enthusiast or hobbyists for recreational or past-time reasons. We must also realise a car originating from as recently as the 1980s can be considered vintage and may be kept, but not used frequently, by citizens. For example, it could be used in the summer months but locked away in storage during the winter months. Some individuals raised this issue in light of this Bill. I appreciate that under the other Acts, a car over 30 years old is classed as vintage but there are cars younger than that which would be liable for full tax if declared for the full year.

Several State agencies and Departments are involved in the implementation of the motor tax system, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Revenue Commissioners. It is very welcome that section 5 makes provision for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to operate the licensing authority but we should go further and transfer the responsibilities for motor tax policy, currently under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It would make sense to do this and it would improve the motor tax system.

Some in this House have sought to criticise the transfer of the driving licence function to the Road Safety Authority from the county councils as proof of some campaign against local government. This is not true. Transferring the driving licence function is rooted in road safety. It recognises that on passing a test, a person will be awarded a driving licence for life, so it makes sense that the Road Safety Authority would be central to the driving licence process. Road safety must central from the start of this Bill providing financial arrangements for the transfer from the local authorities to the Road Safety Authority. Nobody likes to pay tax but those who pay want to ensure and need to know that everyone who is liable to pay tax does so and this Bill ensures that in the context of road tax.

Deputy Tony McLoughlin: Information on Tony McLoughlin Zoom on Tony McLoughlin I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill which is estimated will save taxpayers €55 million in one year. The practice of motorists declaring that their vehicles were off the road for a period of time, filling in the relevant form, going to the Garda station and getting it stamped and proceeding to the local motor tax office has been well known for many years and has been used by people whose vehicles were genuinely off the road. An example is a civil servant or semi-State worker who took up an offer outside the State for a period of time, who parked his or her vehicle and returned to find the tax was out of date and legitimately went through the process of declaration that his or her car was off the road. Other examples include persons with illnesses for a period of time or persons acquiring a company vehicle or van for a period of time to do specialised work. It is important to mention that under this Bill, all the cases I mentioned will continue to be able to do the same if they declare their circumstances in advance. I welcome the Minister's due recognition in the Bill of these circumstances.

What the Bill is designed to do is to catch the people who set out to avoid their obligation to pay motor tax on their vehicles. It is impossible to believe that up to €55 million in tax is written off genuinely. There are people who drive around for up to 12 months or longer and suddenly get a scare when they come across a checkpoint. They then go to regularise their situation. They decide to fill in the declaration falsely by ignoring the non-tax period and just paying for the next six-month to 12-month period. Why should compliant citizens subsidise others? It is not fair and the Minister has an obligation to act to tighten up the regulations.

Once the Bill is enacted, a non-use declaration can be made in advance of the vehicle being taken off the road for a period of between three to 12 calendar months. A declaration can be made up to one month in advance of the expiry of a motor tax disc or a previous declaration of non-use while purchasers of new and second-hand vehicles will have ten days from the date of registration or change of ownership to make a declaration. These are all very practical ways of doing business and I welcome the Minister's well thought out proposals in the Bill.

I suggest that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government engages with representatives of the motor industry so that vehicles which are traded in or sold in part exchange to dealers are dealt with through this Bill. Some vehicles could technically be in a motor dealer's yard for up to nine months, unsold. Will vehicles traded by a customer have to file a non-use declaration in advance of the vehicle being taken off the road? When the timeframe is not known, what is the procedure? I urge the Minister to provide clarifications in this regard.

Since 2008 car tax has been aligned to CO2 emissions rather than the cc of the engine which has resulted in massive savings for the motorist. This was introduced by a former Minister, John Gormley. Since then car manufacturers have, through innovation and technology, further reduced the CO2 emissions of many engines, resulting in leaner fuel consumption, cleaner air and reduced costs in terms of car purchase costs, fuel and motor tax.

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