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Finance Bill 2014

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Deputy Róisín Shortall

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Róisín Shortall

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Snippet Contents:

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is surprising that so few from the Government benches are offering to speak in this important debate, which takes place every year. Precious few Government people have been around between yesterday and today.
I wish to make specific reference to section 27, which relates to the windfall tax. This windfall tax was introduced in 2009 by the late Mr. Brian Lenihan. It was intended and designed to prevent speculative land transactions based on the rezoning of land. It was designed to ensure we learned from some of the mistakes of the past and the litany of abuse of our planning system, that we heard about in the subsequent planning tribunal.
In a reply to a question about the tax from Deputy Michael McGrath at the end of September, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated: "The windfall gains provisions were introduced primarily to discourage overheating of the property market by way of speculative transactions involving rezoned land rather than as a revenue-raising measure." By the Minister's own admission, this tax was never intended to raise money but to prevent overheating of the property market. We now find ourselves in the incredible situation whereby we had an anti-speculation tax that existed when there was little or no speculation in the property market but is now being abolished by the Government precisely when there is significant evidence that such speculation is returning to the property market. This makes no sense whatsoever. Have any lessons been learned from the past? Who is dictating Government policy in this regard? Why is it that the current Government seems to be in a position of repeating mistakes that were made previously when it comes to land speculation and the property market?
I am keen to know more about the advice that was taken in respect of this measure. I know from a reply to a parliamentary question that I received in recent days that the Minister has said he listened to the submissions and, presumably, took on board the pre-budget comments made by the Construction Industry Federation, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, Property Industry Ireland and Chambers Ireland. These are the same people who were giving all the advice in the build-up to the boom and who contributed in large measure to the bust that we are all still reeling from. We are seeing Fine Gael looking more and more like Fianna Fáil in the bad old days.
I am keen to discuss the role of NAMA in all of this, because the Minister said he consulted with NAMA about this measure. The windfall tax was a potentially significant policy instrument in respect of land rezoning. In the reply to which I referred earlier, which I received last week from the Minister, it emerged that the views of NAMA were sought, among others, when the Minister was considering a review of this tax. I am keen to know precisely how great an influence NAMA had on the final decision to abolish this tax. This is an important point. From the point of view of the transparency and accountability of that body, it is important that we know the extent of that influence. As we know, the role of NAMA, legally enshrined, is to maximise the value of the State land and property assets it controls. This role puts it in direct conflict with sustainable planning and rezoning policies. I believe NAMA should have no say whatsoever in how planning and rezoning is determined. This is part and parcel of the rezoning policy that was pursued for so many years, disastrously, in this country. To dampen down speculation, the windfall tax was introduced. One of the bodies that stands to benefit significantly from the abolition of this tax was one of the bodies that the Minister consulted on the matter. At the very least there is a conflict of interest, and it is wholly inappropriate that this has been the case. There is a need for some transparency on the matter, and I would welcome the Minister's comments.
I will comment on some of the other provisions and the budget in general. The backdrop to this budget is the fact that we are now finally starting to emerge from an exceptionally black period in our economic history. Fingers crossed, things are starting to pick up. We are all holding our breath to see whether these early signs of recovery will continue. This is the first budget in which there has been any leeway to do anything and the first that has not been dictated by bottom-line figures, although we are still obliged to meet earlier commitments. What this budget required more than anything else, given that we are starting the comeback as a country and as an economy, was a vision for the country. It needed a vision that recognised the extraordinary damage that has been done to the country and the economy in recent years. It required a vision that was about repairing that damage and uniting people around a shared vision of the future. It should have been about restoring confidence in ourselves as a people and as a country as well as restoring confidence in the political system to handle the situation. Unfortunately, we have got none of that vision. What we have got from this budget is the Taoiseach's vision, which, we can all see now, is a vision not for the people but for re-election. That is the beginning and the end of what this budget is about.
We know that during the period from 2008 to the present, everyone took a hit from the collapse of the economy.