Household charge is a vital reform, says Howlin


MINISTER FOR Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin appealed to TDs not to play politics with the household charge.

“This is part of the survival strategy for this country,’’ he said.

Mr Howlin said there was a requirement for local government to fund its normal services and for €160 million to be raised. He added that the local government fund required the charge this year to meet that figure.

There was a legal requirement on households to pay the €100 charge, he said.

“I know it is an imposition,’’ said Mr Howlin. “I know the pressure households feel.’’ He added that the Government had inherited an economic catastrophe.

There was a need to broaden the tax base beyond the narrow focus on taxing income alone in order to restore a solid income base that would ensure local and ordinary services continued to be provided for the people who needed them.

Mr Howlin was replying to Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath, who renewed his call for an extension to tomorrow’s deadline for paying the charge and a facility to pay it by instalments.

Mr McGrath said the vast majority of Irish people were law-abiding citizens.

“The fact that, with less than three days to go, more than one million people have yet to pay the household charge is a measure of the shambles the Government has made of this affair.’’

Mr McGrath said the communications strategy and political handling of the tax had been a disaster.

Even Ministers had publicly conceded that mistakes had been made, he said, adding that Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan had apologised privately to his Fine Gael parliamentary party colleagues.

The Government, said Mr McGrath, had refused point blank to allow a waiver for people who had a genuine inability to pay.

Since then, he added, people had been given the wrong information and had been threatened, with genuine concerns dismissed out of hand.

Ministers, said Mr McGrath, had taken to the airwaves and publicly contradicted each other about the role of An Post, while people had been threatened that a council official would knock on their door to collect the charge.

Active Retirement Ireland and others had confirmed that fraudsters were knocking on the doors of vulnerable elderly people throughout the country looking for the €100, he said.

Mr McGrath suggested the only thing preventing people being allowed extra time to pay the charge was “the stubborn political pride of the Minister, Deputy Hogan and this Government’’.

Mr Howlin said any property tax introduced would be opposed for base political reasons.

Fianna Fáil, he added, had agreed with the troika to have a site valuation tax and the household charge was the first step in doing so.

“It is a flat-rate tax and it needs to be nuanced,’’ he added. “We are working on that.’’

Independent TD John Halligan interjected to say that the Government had withdrawn funding from local authorities.

Mr Howlin replied that there were TDs on the Opposition benches who would support no tax, no charge and no cut.

“It is Darby O’Gill economics by which people will not be fooled,’’ he added.

People, he said, wanted the economy to recover and they knew the path to recovery was a hard one.

“They will not be fooled by people pretending we can fund local government with magic money.’’