Dublin city councillors and officials could be forgiven for being nonplussed when Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly had a go at their decision to cut property tax this week.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast he said councillors had decided it was more important to reduce property tax than to help the homeless.
The reason the council might be baffled by this particular attack is Mr Kelly had specifically told them earlier this month that it was fine to give Dubliners a 15 per cent cut, and doing so would not result in a cut in funding by the Government.
He also told Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh, along with former mayor Christy Burke and fellow councillors during the summer, that money was no object when it came to homeless funding.
This assurance was specifically referenced by council chief executive Owen Keegan in his budget strategy report presented to councillors this week.
“Although written confirmation of the Minister’s commitment has not yet been received, I am entirely satisfied that the Minister’s pledge will be honoured,” Mr Keegan said.
Mr Keegan urged the councillors not to cut property tax, though not in order to fund homeless services, which, as he said, were being taken care of by Mr Kelly. Instead, the funds would be used for libraries, footpaths and pedestrian crossings, a “dog fouling blitz”, and 1916 commemorations. “I consider it timely that the city council should approve a service investment programme, funded through the application of the basic LPT [local property tax] rate.”
The Greens were the only party on the council to support the call for no tax cut, though they did not envisage the money gained being spent on homelessness either, but on local services, such as reopening parks.
The homelessness crisis is acknowledged to be one of national proportions. It is not of the city council’s making and can’t be shouldered by the council or the other greater Dublin local authorities. The problem is such that it could swallow their entire resources.
It is also not a problem created by Dublin homeowners, and they have a right to expect that property tax is spent on providing local services and, essentially, running the city.
The problem, however, has its roots in decisions made by central government. The previous government stopped building social housing and the current Government has only recently started again.
The lack of social housing puts the poorest, the city’s unwaged, in direct competition for private rental properties with workers who can pay more, albeit putting many of them in a position where they are working just to pay their rent.