No automatic exemptions on property taxes, says Creighton


NO AUTOMATIC exemptions from property and water taxes should be allowed for pensioners or social welfare recipients, Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton has said.

She also said people living in Dublin and other cities should not be discriminated against and “punished for their address” when it came to paying the value-based property tax. Square footage should be taken into account, along with ability to pay.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Ms Creighton argued against a site valuation tax because “people living in houses where you literally cannot swing a cat in Dublin will be paying the bulk of property tax and I don’t think that’s fair”.

She said it would be “ludicrous” if certain categories of people were automatically exempt from the tax to replace the household charge. “I think that’s a very dangerous precedent and it breeds resentment for people who work hard to pay their taxes, to pay their mortgage and will have to work hard to pay their property tax.” Asked which categories of people she was referring to, Ms Creighton said: “Everybody: pensioners, potentially people on social welfare or in social housing. I don’t think that it’s right that anybody should be automatically exempt.

“Of course, if there’s an inability to pay then that’s something that has to be taken into consideration, but I just don’t think that any automatic exemptions for water taxes, for property tax, or for anything else should apply.” She insisted the incoming tax should be linked to a comprehensive programme of local government reform, “because local government in this country is completely ineffectual”.

A debate on abortion could “divide the nation” and should be avoided given the scale of economic difficulties facing the Government, Ms Creighton said.

The Government-appointed expert group on abortion is due to report later this month. Ms Creighton said the Coalition partners diverged on social issues, describing Fine Gael as pro-life and Labour as pro-choice. Abortion would prove “hugely divisive” within Government and political parties.

“But most importantly . . . I think the impact in terms of division of the Irish public is the real thing that I just think is really counterproductive and something that I would not like to see happen,” she said.

“It’s so divisive and potentially explosive. I just don’t see the need to divide the nation on an issue that is so sensitive to so many people . . . It should not be a priority for this Government.

“I think we have enough to be getting on with in running the country, reducing our bank debt, stabilising our finances, getting people off the dole. That’s what matters most to people and my preference would just be not to deal with this issue right now.”

Ms Creighton said Fine Gael had articulated a very clear pro-life position before the general election. “I’ve heard everybody from [Minister for the Environment] Phil Hogan to the Taoiseach speaking about it at different times . . . Our position is clear and it hasn’t changed,” she said.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore refused last week to spell out Labour’s position on abortion before the expert group reported. Asked about this, Ms Creighton said: “I always understood Labour was a pro-choice party.” She noted that Labour was a bigger party than it had ever been before. “Perhaps they’re having their own internal discussions, as we are in Fine Gael, and they’re perfectly entitled to. Far be it from me to get involved in an internal Labour Party debate.”

On the issue of gay marriage, which Mr Gilmore has called “the most important civil rights issue of the age”, Ms Creighton said: “The Tánaiste’s views are the Tánaiste’s views. They’re not the Government’s views.” She added: “On social issues, we really diverge. That’s quite clear.”

The planned constitutional convention is due to consider gay marriage among other matters.

Ms Creighton said young people have borne the brunt of the financial crisis and the situation could not be allowed to continue. “From what I have seen, the people who have been most disproportionately hit are the youngest people right across the Civil Service,” she said.

“New entrants, whether it’s teachers or civil servants, the entry-level salaries and pay and conditions that they are entitled to are a far cry from what people 10 or 15 or 20 years more senior are entitled to.

“I think young people have taken that on the chin. It’s a very difficult time. People have said, ‘I’m lucky to have a job’.

“But young people have borne the brunt of this crisis to a huge extent and I don’t think that can continue. I think it’s important that everybody shares the burden.”

She believes the Government will “avoid touching income tax at almost any cost”.

If it is possible to avoid direct cuts to social welfare rates, that position will also continue, she said.

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