Dáil passes property tax legislation
The controversial property tax legislation passed all stages in the Dáil late last night by a comfortable majority amid bitter exchanges about the impact of the levy.
TDs backed the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill by 85 votes to 47. None of the close to 100 amendments put forward by the Opposition was accepted but Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said a number of them could be considered in the Finance Bill, which would give effect to proposals in the Budget.
There was sharp criticism of the guillotining of the legislation, described by Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath as “one of the most important Bills this House will discuss”. He condemned the less than three hours available to debate 88 Committee Stage amendments before the Bill was “rammed through the House”.
There were bitter exchanges about the impact of the tax on families in mortgage distress and warnings of potential cases of suicide because of the “tipping point” pressure it would place on householders already in extreme financial difficulty.
Independent Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly asked what the Minister would say to those who did not have money to feed their children. “What will he tell those who walk into our constituency offices - and I am sure the Minister's also - and say they have suicidal thoughts or their children are hungry?”
During a row over whether the tax would fund local services, Mr Noonan said in the first year 65 per cent of funding would go to local authorities, while administrative measures were put in place. Over the space of a “couple of years” the total amount would be used by local authorities, he insisted.
The Minister added that the local authorities elected in 2014 would have the discretion of “plus or minus 15 per cent on the rate of the tax”.
He insisted he would not tax work because fewer jobs would be created. Mr Noonan said the money would come from property owners and hitting out at Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins who refused to pay the household charge, Mr Noonan said “this time he will pay because it will be taken off him if he does not”, but Mr Higgins said the money was for bondholders.
The Minister said “everybody should pay. At the end of the day everybody should make a small contribution. This is fairness.”
Hitting out at United Left Alliance TDs who predicted a major campaign against the charge, Mr Noonan said “I do not think they will get a big crowd of revolutionaries rallying behind the banner of opposing property taxes. This was never a great slogan for the left.”
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty condemned the Government move to base the tax on the gross market value of the family home, which he said was “one of the most unfair elements of the entire Bill”, because it ignored outstanding mortgage or the stamp duty paid and it was a tax on a debt rather than on an asset.
United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett questioned the application of the property tax on houses in negativity equity.
“This is like attaching a ball and chain to somebody, throwing them into the river, asking them why they cannot swim and threatening menaces and punishments because they cannot swim," he said.
Independent Dublin South TD Shane Ross said the Government had “almost unprecedentedly managed to unite middle Ireland” because the property tax was a “sledge-hammer which does not allow for anybody who is poor bar those earning up to approximately €15,000. It does not allow for any exceptions for negative equity, mortgage arrears or stamp duty and expects middle Ireland to accept it.”
United Left Alliance TD Joan Collins warned the property tax “will be the most hated tax in the country and is being introduced by a Fine Gael-Labour Government. It will be much worse than the tax on children's shoes that was brought in decades ago.”
Independent Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath said the Government “thinks it can do what it likes and to hell with the ordinary people. It is like having Cromwell back again - to hell or to Connacht.”
Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish warned about rogue landlords who he said could charge their tenants more rent related to a certain valuation under the tax than they would pay to the Revenue, at a lower valuation.
Independent Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy warned that “we’re going to create monsters out of Revenue”, who will have responsibility for collecting the tax. She said it could such pressure on the Revenue Commissioners it might affect their ability to collect other taxes. “Their people are going to be put into the frontline here,” she said.
United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly warned the Minister “you might think you can get away with it in here but you won’t get away with it outside”.
The Bill, which will come into effect on July 1st next year, now goes to the Seanad.