Land hoarding is the biggest cause of the housing crisis, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the Dáil on Wednesday, saying the zoned land tax in Budget 2022 will ensure that public good dictates housing policy and not landlords.
He said there were 8,000 hectares of zoned land sitting unused and the 3 per cent tax will not raise a lot, but will “take the heat out of land speculation”. There is a minimum two-year lead-in to the tax but “at last we have the measure and we are delivering what we have been talking about for decades in our party”.
Mr Ryan, who is Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment and Communications, was speaking during a Dáil debate on the budget and he said he was “proud” of the three Coalition parties for their work on it.
He said he will “still be spending on roads” with a budget of €1.4 billion, but “that will start to reduce because the number of public transport projects is starting to rise dramatically”. He also staunchly defended the carbon tax against opposition criticism and said “we have to raise tax. We can’t do everything from borrowing”. The tax which will increase by €7.50 per tonne of CO2 to €41 was the “right thing to do”.
Mr Ryan said that of the €9.5 billion it is projected to raise over the next nine years, €3 billion will go to social protection, €5 billion to retrofitting and €1.5 billion to farmers. He said the money “helps social progress”.
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty described the tax as a “con job” but the Minister asked “where is the alternative” in raising the required €9 billion “to give to our poorest people and allow us to meet our emissions targets”.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien also defended the zoned land tax as a “new and radical departure” in tackling land hoarding. Rejecting Sinn Féin claims that it was a “lame duck”, he said the 8,000 hectares involved enough land to build more than 250,000 homes and the tax will be collected by Revenue.
“The Government is sending a strong signal today to build up or pay up. If you want to build, the Government will support you. If you want to hoard land, the Government will tax you.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the budget “marks a further decisive investment in health, housing, education and a wide range of public services” and “will deliver the largest package of income support in more than a decade”.
Warning that the Covid-19 pandemic “has not gone away”, he said it had “created a series of new hurdles” including “dramatic increases in key waiting lists and nearly 10,000 fewer houses being built”.
The Taoiseach trenchantly criticised Sinn Féin whose alternative budget “supposedly proved that much higher borrowing can be sustained” along with pandemic levels of supports.
“Such an approach is deeply wrong and based on the false premise that emergency interventions are a model for permanent interventions,” he said.
The Government had spent about €31 billion in 2020 and this year “and this level of support is manifestly not sustainable”.
He claimed that Sinn Féin “has managed to expose itself as promising everything to everybody without the slightest intention to deliver”. Mr Martin said Sinn Féin “has added a new arrogance and presumption to its trademark aggression”.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the budget “provides a much-needed boost for business in Ireland; to businesses that are still struggling with the effects of the pandemic and to businesses looking to grow”.
Current expenditure in the Department of Enterprise will increase by €12 million to €358 million for next year which will fund State agencies including the establishment of the new corporate enforcement agency.
Capital expenditure will rise by €91 million, some 21 per cent, which will go on investment priorities including the national development plan.