Mountain rescue volunteers seek review of tax on equipment

Marine and inland waterway rescue craft exempt from VAT

A mountain rescue group has called on the Government to review a tax issue that it says is putting financial pressure on voluntary organisations.

The Galway Mountain Rescue Team says it has been hit with a vehicle registration tax (VRT) bill and VAT for a second-hand vehicle which it purchased and imported. It said that vehicles used for marine rescue craft are exempt from the same tax.

The rescue group's team leader, Alan Carr, said they had applied unsuccessfully for Lottery funding for a new vehicle, as its original four- wheel drive is 14 years old. Volunteers had to engage in street collections and other initiatives to raise funding for the vehicle, and also assisted in fitting it out.

Former transport minister Leo Varadkar gave a one-off grant of €200,000 to the Mountain Rescue Ireland co-ordinating body earlier this year, but his department said tax was a matter for the Revenue Commissioners.


The Revenue Commissioners said Irish VAT laws were governed by the EU VAT Directive, which makes specific provision for a zero rate for vessels used for rescue or assistance at sea. This was extended to rescue vessels for inland waterways in 2013.

The exemption does not apply to mountain rescue equipment and it would be “up to the EU to change the rates applicable” to mountain rescue groups, Revenue said.

On VRT, Revenue said that section 132(3)(e) of the Finance Act 1992 provides for the charging of a “nil” rate of VRT on categories of motor vehicle that are “designed and constructed in a manner specific to their purpose and that are used for public services such as road cleaning, road construction and for the exclusive transport of life boats and their gear or any equipment for affording assistance in the preservation of life in cases of shipwreck or distress at sea.

“Apart from these exemptions, there is no provision for relief from VRT for vehicles used in emergency services. Vehicles are taxed on the basis of ‘type’ rather than ‘use’,” the Revenue Commissioners said.

“Commercial vehicles used in mountain rescue services, including vehicles for the carriage of goods and vehicles for the carriage of 10 or more persons, are liable to a flat VRT rate of €200. Other vehicles are liable to higher VRT rates, depending on the specifications of the vehicles in question.”

Mountaineering Ireland chief executive Karl Boyle said the reality was that the volunteers who were out in the "depths of winter in terrible conditions" offering assistance in their own time were "also the ones who had to go out shaking buckets" to raise funds.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times