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Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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  10 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] Some of them are lucky to have the property rented out and may be able to meet some of the mortgage costs that arise, whereas others have simply abandoned their homes. The families in Perth could not find work here and are trying to make a new start and secure employment to pay for a house in which they will not set foot for many years, if ever. The Government is not satisfied that these people have emigrated because they did not have opportunities that would enable them to stay. It has not done anything to require banks to provide for debt forgiveness for people in this position and wants to slap a new property tax on them, which is immoral and unjust.

I had intended to move four amendments to address four key issues and it was not my fault that they were rolled into one. The Minister has stated he will not accept amendments tonight but will reflect on them. The idea of dealing with the net value of a house did not drop out of the sky tonight. The Minister's proposal does not make sense. While he may argue that it taxes the value of a house, the property tax will apply to people who have a €250,000 mortgage on a house valued at €100,000. As Deputy Brian Stanley noted, a person with a mortgage of €250,000 could find the house next door on the same estate being sold this week for €100,000. Families in these circumstances would like to give up their home and buy the house next door if that were possible. They have a net liability of €150,000, which means their house is not an asset but a liability. If only they could hand back the keys to the bank and buy the house next door for €100,000, but life is not that simple. It is utterly unfair to tax people with a net debt of €150,000. If they cannot repay their debt, the bank will repossess the house, yet the Government is proposing to tax the debts of people in such circumstances.

It is wrong to refuse to take into account the large amounts of stamp duty paid by people in the years after 2000. I referred to the political parties which rushed into the fold and engaged in auction politics. The Progressive Democrats Party was the first to bid in this auction, whereas Sinn Féin was the only party in the House at the time which opposed that type of politics. We pointed out that the other parties were fuelling increases in property prices. People decided not to buy houses for a period in the belief a new Government would reduce stamp duty because all the parties had agreed to do so. This encouraged people to buy houses at the height of the boom. The main political parties then left people in their current predicament. It was not simply a matter of making an individual decision to buy a house. There was a conspiracy, if one wants to use this term, involving politicians who wanted to generate revenue from stamp duty and transient taxes, developers who did not want the dream of buying homes for €400,000 and €500,000 to end and bankers who were creaming profits and receiving bonuses for giving mortgages and loans to people who should never have been given them. This troika arrangement or love affair between key politicians, banks and developers has utterly destroyed the economy.

The Minister referred to growth in gross domestic product. I can say hand on heart that no one will be more satisfied than me if we achieve GDP or GNP growth of 3%, 4% or 5%. Getting the country back on its feet is about people, not statistics. My amendment deals with people as opposed to balance sheets and accounts. People are suffering and experiencing pain. For many of them, life has not turned out as they had hoped and many are carrying crosses or bearing burdens for different reasons. It is important, therefore, that the Government does not add to their burdens.

Deputy Brian Stanley and another speaker referred to an issue I had not intended to raise, but I will do so. Last week, before a public meeting commenced, a girl who works in my office told me she did not have the skills to do a particular job. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me people had come to the office to tell her they thought they should end everything. A section of the population are in dire straits as a result of the cumulative effect of recent measures. They want to see light at the end of the tunnel. Families are being tortured by the large debts and negative equity associated with their homes. As Deputy Stephen Donnelly stated, some of them will be 55 years old before they have paid off the negative equity element of their mortgage and start paying off the true value of their homes. It is simply not on to add to their pain, even in a modest way, as the Minister will argue, by imposing a further charge of perhaps €4 per week.

The Government could accept the amendment. While I am aware that it must reach its targets, it is wrong to propose to generate €500 million in a full year through a property tax. One cannot generate revenue of this magnitude while maintaining a semblance of fairness. An estimated 177,000 families are in mortgage distress. I refer to households rather than individuals as the figure does not include children. I was fortunate to get a ticket for the all-Ireland final in Croke Park in September where I joined a crowd of 82,000 people in the stadium. The average family consists of a mother, father and two children. How many times would one fill up Croke Park with the mothers, fathers and children of households in mortgage distress? Those in this position should not be burdened with additional taxation.

The amendment, which is four measures rolled into one, is sensible and I ask the Minister to consider it. While he may dismiss Sinn Féin's proposal for a wealth tax, he could implement alternative measures. For example, he deferred until 2014 the measure in the budget dealing with pension relief. Other areas of taxation could also be tackled. I ask the Minister to be very careful. While I do not often echo the sentiments of the Taoiseach, the property tax is unfair, unjust and immoral, and it is particularly so in the case of the four groups I have set out to exempt from it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt As there will be a number of speakers, I ask Deputies to be brief.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins While continuing to oppose this section and the legislation, we can certainly agree with the amendment tabled by Deputy Pearse Doherty in that it would ameliorate some of the worst injustices of the property tax. Before addressing the detail, the Minister sought to satirise the views of Deputies on the left for opposing this tax and tried to shanghai Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin to the cause of supporting this legislation which socialists and Marxists everywhere apparently support. When I refer to "socialists" I mean real socialists, rather than the pseudo-social democrats the Minister frequently meets on his trips to mainland Europe, those who keep the name "socialist" in their party titles but engage in perpetual prostration before the speculators, financial marketeers and bondholders. It is not surprising, therefore, that they would go along with what is the wisdom of the marketplace and European establishment. Real Marxists and socialists believe one imposes progressive taxes on real surplus value and profit, not the homes of the worker or peasant, as the case may be.

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