Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Property tax and the news cycle

How a storm in a teacup over payments option can become a very big deal in the blink of an eye

Wed, Nov 6, 2013, 09:04


I suspect that Patrick Burke speaks for many with his letter in yesterday’s paper regarding the ongoing fandango over payment of the property tax. He writes: “it took less than two minutes for me to file my return for 2014, and print off the Revenue receipt, confirming that the charge will be debited to my current account on March 21st. Simple, efficient, no confusion.”

For a lot of people, payment of this tax really is as simple as that letter outlines. Aside from paying in one lump sum next March, they could also decide to pay by direct debit with the money coming out of their bank account every month or taken from their wages or social welfare payments. Indeed, there are some refuseniks who found the property tax coming out of their wages despite their agitating against it. Simple as. It’s a tax so pay the damn thing.

But the Revenue Commissioners in their wisdom gave seven different options and one of these, the credit/debit card option, is causing all this bother. The Revenue won’t back down, citing data protection issues as a reason why card payments are immediate, and those who are pushing this story also won’t back down as they’ve finally got a chance to give the tax-gatherers a dig in the mush. Of course, putting your tongue out at the taxman is a whole lot better than realising you can get around the paying-the-money-before-Xmas bad buzz in a number of different ways (as Fiona Reddan patiently outlines here or Conor Pope lists here).

It’s really a big fuss over a very small issue, yet everyone from the Cabinet ministers to the usual cast of radio phone-in shows got involved, because that’s what happens on these occasions, so the story has clogged up the news cycle for the last week. Of course, you could also point to other stories like Irish football’s new unlikely dream team or the fact that the capital city of a modern European country has had its water turned off at night for the last week or the same-sex marriage referendum slushing around the cycle letting off steam, dominating discourse and gathering momentum.

But these three are stories and issues in the broadest sense rather than a minor problem with one out of seven payment options for a tax. The news cycle, though, needs to be fed once it has been engaged and every angle needs to be covered. Some media studies observers would probably even argue that this post pointing out this very fact is part of that feeding frenzy.

There’s also a side issue about how fuming about credit card payments allows people to vent some anger about the fact that they have to pay the property tax in the first place. After all, they don’t really have much choice in the matter, now that Revenue have been brought in to clean up the mess after Phil Hogan’s attempts to get people to pay the 2012 household charge. You don’t mess with Revenue (unless you get the smallest of openings like this).

It’s also telling in another sense as it could be seen as a means of reflecting anger about real issues to do with the ongoing raft of austerity measures and policies introduced by this government. When it comes down to it, people seem to prefer to give out yards about a problem with paying a tax by credit card rather than the attacks carried out by the Department of Social Protection on those under 26 and over 65. Strange, that.