Rural drivers could be forced to pay higher levies than urban motorists if the proposed plan to tax the distance travelled by cars is introduced, it was claimed on Tuesday.
The Irish Times reported on plans proposed by senior officials in the Department of Finance to tax motorists on the distance they drive rather than paying excise on fuel at filling station pumps.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice claimed the measures were reflective of an anti-rural policy driven by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Government.
Mr Fitzmaurice criticised the latest “brainwave” alleging Mr Varadkar’s “leafy suburb surrounding” is out of touch with the realities for most people across the country.
"It is too expensive to live in the cities and now if you move down the country, they now want to rob you from driving between A and B. Rural Ireland has been stripped of public transport and now this.
“It will also affect the price of transporting food from rural towns and will increase the price for everyone. So everyone gets screwed,” Mr Fitzmaurice added.
The proposal is one of a number of options being considered by the Government to ensure the overall tax take from motoring does not drop significantly as a result of moves to lower-emission vehicles.
Officials warn that, although lower emissions will still be incentivised, the move towards such vehicles, particular electric-powered cars, will “severely challenge the revenue” accrued by the exchequer through vehicle registration tax (VRT), excise and motor tax.
A similar proposal to tax motorists on the distance they drive was mooted when the VRT scheme changed a decade ago, but it is understood a predicted backlash from TDs in rural and commuter-belt counties stopped the proposal from advancing.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on transport Robert Troy said these proposals were another "kite-flying exercise by the Government".
Mr Troy said motorists are already taxed based on the distance they travel considering excise duty is paid with the purchase of fuel.
“It is important that any changes to the motor tax system are fair and don’t heap additional costs on hard-pressed motorists and are not used by the Government as a crude measure to make up for our failure to meet carbon emissions targets,” he added.
Excise rates on petrol and diesel have remained unchanged since 2012, with 58.7 cent excise and a 4.6 carbon charge on a litre of petrol. The corresponding rates for diesel are 47.9 cent and 5.3 cent.
Barry Aldworth, senior media officer with AA Ireland, agreed the proposals would result in people in the countryside paying higher fees than those living in cities.
"The Government needs to think long and hard before it makes these changes," said Mr Aldworth. "We know that as Ireland goes more electric there is going to be a tax shortfall which needs to be addressed but our concerns is that distance charging would hit those living in rural communities harder.
“Because of the history of under investment in rural transport in this country people have become more reliant on their private cars and they’ll be punished.”