Opposition criticises Bill timing

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended the timing of the legislation and said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had to be in London today.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended the timing of the legislation and said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had to be in London today.

Wed, Feb 20, 2013, 00:00

Opposition parties sharply criticised the late night introduction of the Finance Bill which gives effect to the provisions of December's budget

These include taxing maternity benefit, a 10-point plan for small and medium-sized businesses and investments in hotels, guesthouses and other self-catering accommodation.

Debate on the 172-page legislation with 105 sections began shortly after 10 pm and adjourned at 20 minutes after midnight to be resumed this morning.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny had earlier defended the timing of the legislation and said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had to be in London today.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said there was nothing in the legislation that had to be passed by midnight and he did not understand the rush. The Bill should be discussed in broad daylight and given a reasonable timescale, he said.

United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett described the taking of the Bill so late at night as an absolute manipulation and abuse of the democratic process.

But Mr Kenny said it was a hell of a lot better than having some kind of incorporeal meeting at 3 am about placing an economic crucifixion on the backs of the people, which the Government must now rectify.

Introducing the Bill, Mr Noonan said the Government was on track to bring the deficit below 3 per cent. He said unemployment was the biggest challenge and it was domestic growth that would contribute real progress in tackling this issue.

He highlighted his 10-point tax reform plan including reforms in the three-year corporation tax relief for start-up companies, increasing the cash receipts threshold for Vat and extending foreign earnings deductions for work-related travel to certain additional countries such as Africa.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said he hoped the plan "didn'tsuffer the same fate as the Fine Gael five-point plan in the election which hasn't been seen, I'm afraid, for the last two years. Hopefully this 10 point plan will last a little bit longer and actually be implemented."

He described the Bill as Act two of a deeply unfair package, following Budget 2013.

"It will be followed shortly by the Social Welfare Bill which will copper-fasten the most egregious elements of the Budget," he said.

Referring to figures last week from the Central Statistics Office he said they quite clearly showed that poverty was worsening.

He said the early analysis of Budget 2013 showed it was unfair in its impact. For the lowest income group the income reduction was just over 1 per cent and for the top income group it was half that at just over 0.5 per cent.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the Bill emphasised the Government's austerity approach.

"The legislation once more asks middle and low income families to bear the brunt of recovery," he said.

He added that the Government could not find money to reverse the respite care grant cut and it was introducing a property tax on already struggling households yet it was extending tax breaks to those least in need of them.

"The Living City initiative in the Bill provided a generous tax break for owners of Georgian houses, in two counties who could renovate their houses with limitless amounts and get up to 100 per cent tax back over the next ten years over an investment. It smells of section 23 and stinks to high Heaven."

"Yet the deprived housing estates in Limerick which have been the subject of countless regeneration delays will be expected to pay the property tax when it is either levied on their houses directly or through their social housing rents," he said.

He said the Bill also allowed wealthy people with additional voluntary contributions on their pensions to draw down money exempt from PRSI or the university social.

"This Bill is peppered with tax breaks with no idea the cost or effectiveness of them to the State."

During debate on the Bill Mr Boyd Barrett said the only positive thing he could say about the legislation was to commend departmental officials for their work in putting together such a technically complex Bill.

He renewed his criticism of the timing of the Bill but Mr Noonan said if he did not take it last night it would be a junior Minister who introduced it and he wanted to deal with the legislation.

The late night debate on the Finance Bill last night followed the all night debate in the Dáil and Seanad last week to pass legislation to liquidate the former Anglo Irish Bank.

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