Government’s vacant homes tax ‘so low it is actually laughable’ - Holly Cairns

Social Democrats leader describes tax as ‘tokenistic’ and claims it is intended to maintain ‘status quo’

The Government’s vacant homes tax of 0.3 per cent is “so low it is actually laughable”, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns has said.

Ms Cairns described the tax rate as “tokenistic” and said it was not designed to get empty homes back into use but instead to “maintain the status quo”.

The Cork South West TD was speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, as her party put forward a motion calling for a vacant homes tax of 10 per cent to be introduced.

“At a time when house prices are increasing in value by an average of 7.8 per cent annually, a 0.3 per cent tax on vacant sites is so low it is actually laughable,” she said.


The Social Democrats leader said the Government was in “denial” regarding the housing crisis, and were ignoring homelessness figures, regular protests and “even the warnings from employers”.

“The Government is refusing to treat this situation as an emergency because that would involve admitting that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have utterly failed to address the housing disaster,” Ms Cairns said.

The party’s housing spokesman Cian O’Callaghan said there were at least 100,000 vacant homes around the country, which did not include holiday homes.

Mr O’Callaghan said bringing these empty homes back into use could have “a transformative effect on supply”. The Dublin Bay North TD said while the party wasn’t fixated that the rate must be set at 10 per cent, it had to be “a serious rate”.

He also said there would be “fair” exemptions for people who owned vacant homes “beyond their control” such as properties going through probate and homeowners who were receiving long-term hospital care.

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said analysis of vacancy rates captured by local property tax returns were “low across all counties”, averaging nationally at three per cent “which is considered to be in line with a functional housing market”.

Mr McGrath added that he would keep the operation of the vacancy homes tax under review, including the rate of the tax.

During the debate, Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae broke into song briefly and accused the Social Democrats of taxing people “out of their homes and farms” and said this was “wrong”.

The Kerry TD claimed that the tax was a compulsory purchase order “in disguise”.

Independent TD Verona Murphy said it appeared that the “lepers” of the housing industry in Ireland were the developers.

“These are the people who can deliver housing and nobody on any side of this House is engaging or listening to them,” she said.

“Senior politicians in this Government are held hostage by their senior civil servants and the planning regulator. It appears they have Stockholm syndrome.”

The Wexford TD added that in order to solve the “greatest s**t show that this country has ever seen”, the minister [for Housing] “needs to grow a pair and start immediately implementing policies that are required to make supply happen”.

“The regulator is playing the music and the minister is dancing to the tune while Opposition parties in the fourth estate clap along,” Ms Murphy said. “It’s a simple case of Nero fiddles as Rome burned.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times