Some clause for concern as Enda digs in over tax

Wed, Mar 6, 2013, 00:00

DÁIL SKETCH: “Somebody,” wailed Richard Boyd Barrett. “Somebody has to make a protest!” But who? They were talking among themselves in the Dáil chamber, paying him scant attention.

But who’ll do it, Richard? Nothing for it, but for RBB, ULA/PBP TD (Technical Group) to make that objection himself. Well. We weren’t expecting that.

You could have knocked us down with a placard. Fair play to Boyd Barrett. It’s about time he stood up and allowed his voice be heard. Particularly as it was all of half an hour since his last angry outburst.

Mind you, RBB made an interesting contribution during Leaders’ Questions. It certainly got a lot of people thinking in Leinster House – the Taoiseach not being one.

Yesterday, the Government geared up to steamroll the Property Tax Bill through the Oireachtas so as not to delay the nice people in Revenue who are all set to post out the bills next week. This move annoyed the Opposition no end, leading RBB to say that the Government had established a pattern of ramming through controversial legislation while allowing people to talk forever on non-contentious issues.

In advance of their latest guillotining exercise, the People Before Profit TD highlighted an intriguing clause in section one of the Bill, which sets out that when a house is valued for property tax, grounds stretching beyond an acre won’t be included in the calculation.

Obnoxious clause

It was one of the “obnoxious features” of the Bill. Here’s the clause: “ ‘residential property’ means any building or structure which is in use as, or is suitable for use as, a dwelling and includes any shed, outhouse, garage or other building or structure and any yard, garden or other land, appurtenant to or usually enjoyed with that building, save that so much of any such yard, garden or other land that exceeds one acre shall not be taken into account for the purposes of this definition.”

So, as Boyd-Barrett sees it, people who are lucky and/or rich enough to live in a mansion set in rolling grounds with huge gardens and lovely views, won’t be taxed on the full value of their property. For example, if a person like a Government Minister were to own a listed house in the country surrounded by beautiful countryside, Revenue would only assess it based on a mere acre of the beautiful grounds.

Boyd Barrett had specific homes in mind when bringing up the single-acre clause. “This means the sprawling estates and large gardens, which would significantly boost the value of properties owned by multimillionaires . . .”

At which point, Mattie McGrath intriguingly interjected: “Where’s James Bannon?”, thus instantly elevating the man we may once have called Bonkers to the status of the Dáil’s most eligible bachelor.

Richard continued to muse what this method of assessment would have on the land of the super-rich.

It “will not be assessed for the purpose of the property tax while the small garden or back yard of a semi-detached house, owned by an ordinary citizen will be liable for the purposes of the property tax. Is this not proof that yet again, when it comes to the property tax, the super-wealthy are being protected . . .”

“Landed gentry” repeated Mattie.

Sprawling estate

Enda was nonplussed by Boyd Barrett’s argument. It wasn’t a land tax, but “a property tax based on the house, the valuation of which is determined by the owner”.

What’s an extra acre or 20 when it comes to the price of a home? “If Deputy Boyd Barrett believes a bit of ground around a house is a sprawling estate, he needs to move out of his constituency and take a look at the country.”

It seems incomprehensible to the Taoiseach that one of the selling points of a luxury home might be the amount of land around it. He appears under the impression that when a trophy home goes on the market, the land immediately around is included in the sale price but the artificial lake, nun’s walk, private woodland and gallops add no value at all.

“My back garden would be taken into account,” shrugged Joan Collins.

“What about front gardens?” asked Mattie.“What about stables?”

“It’s immoral” interjected Willie O’Dea.

Still, Enda had no idea what the fuss was about.

“I’m interested in hearing where the deputy got his information about big gardens and sprawling estates,” he said to Boyd Barrett, as if the concept of a country estate never existed.

“The deputy must have heard of them through his private school education,” sniffed the Taoiseach. A simple clause exempting land used for farming or commercial purposes could have been included in the Bill, RBB said.

But no, Enda couldn’t see it. Only ordinary people, in ordinary homes, have their gardens included in the value of their properties. For the privileged few though, their rivers run free.