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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 14 Dec 2011

Vol. 750 No. 1

Local Government (Household Charge) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Committee Stage


Amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Sinn Féin opposes the Bill and the concept of a household charge. This is a form of double taxation which is being introduced on the back of other charges and stealth taxes. It will have a very negative impact and will be the final straw for many householders.

For the record, the United Left Deputies have tabled a formal amendment to oppose the section and should be called in precedence.

The formal amendment to section 1 has been ruled out of order as it is more suited to a reasoned argument against the Second Reading of the Bill because it seeks to provide for the Act to be temporary in nature. I call on Deputies who wish to oppose the section to contribute.

The point I am trying to make is that an amendment has been tabled to oppose the section. The Acting Chairman will see the words "section opposed" below Deputy Stanley's amendment on the list.

In that case, I call Deputy Higgins.

Deputy Daly is leading in this debate.

As Deputy Stanley stated, the section is fundamental to the rest of the legislation as it establishes the basis for the introduction of the household tax. This tax is being imposed on top of many other austerity measures that have been imposed in recent years. It is clear from other provisions that this is the first step towards broader provisions for a property tax and other charges on the home. Those who oppose the household charge will want the entire section removed from the Bill.

As Fianna Fáil Deputies stated last night, we are not opposed in principle to a property tax. There are people who can and should pay. However, the legislation, as presented, does not provide equity and fairness. It is unjust to expect a wealthy person living on Ailesbury Road in Dublin 4 to be subject to the same flat rate charge as a person who is locked into negative equity and hardship in one of the urban areas with which we are familiar or a rural dweller living on an island off the west coast. The proposed flat rate charge is regressive and discriminates against the most vulnerable. As will be shown in some of the later amendments, my party is seeking extensive exemptions for such persons.

Like other Deputies, I am opposed to this legislation. This section contains some of the definitions which, if the Bill is passed, will facilitate the implementation of the regressive tax proposed by the Government. Sinn Féin has outlined an alternative wealth tax that would focus on some of those who have properties worth over €1 million and over €1 million in assets. It would capture much more money than the proposal outlined in this Bill. It would be a progressive tax rather than a regressive one. I will not repeat the arguments I have just made on Second Stage, when I outlined my total opposition to this tax.

I also want to oppose this section, which contains the various paraphernalia of the Bill, as has already been said. This flat-rate regressive tax targets people on lower incomes. It is completely and absolutely unfair that those earning the minimum wage or receiving social welfare will pay this tax at the same rate as those who are millionaires. There seems to be a policy of depressing demand further and creating additional job losses by taking money out of the economy. That is what this is all about. It is a continuation of the Government programme that has led to the destruction of a sizeable number of jobs.

The figures that were published by the CSO yesterday are absolutely horrendous. Some 25,000 jobs have been eliminated from the economy since the Government came to power. That has happened because the Government has continued to take vast sums of money out of the economy and thereby depress demand. Small businesses are closing or are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. This legislation will reduce demand and depress the economy further. I have mentioned that 25,000 jobs have gone since the Government took office. If the Government's rate of job destruction continues, more than 500,000 people will be unemployed very shortly, in addition to the 100,000 people who have emigrated. I am opposed to this section.

I am opposing this section on the basis of what my colleagues have said. This is a poll tax. It is not progressive in any way. I listened to the Minister, Deputy Hogan, yesterday when he said there will be a cut in the universal social charge for those who earn less than €10,000. The Government is proud of itself for giving €4 back to people before taking €2 off them. I am absolutely opposed to this.

If the Government really wants to introduce a property tax — the United Left Alliance is not opposed to the idea of the wealthy paying a property tax — an exemption should be made for family homes. It could apply to four-bedroom or five-bedroom homes in certain areas. There could have been a different approach to the detail of the tax. We know what this is all about. The plan is to introduce a tax of between €1,000 and €1,300 — possibly more — on people's homes.

I will refer to the similar bin tax that was introduced in 2000. Contrary to what has been said in the House today, people were able to find the strong campaign against the tax in the Crumlin and Walkinstown areas of Dublin South-Central. If Sinn Féin received any queries about the bin tax, or had any problems, it could have contacted those involved in the campaign. It was quite clear who they were. No one in the area went to jail. No one in the area who did not want to pay the bin tax had to do so. They have not suffered any consequences from failing to pay it.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, teastaíonn uaim a rá leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Ó Dubhda, nach ceist phearsanta í seo.

Ba cheart go mbeadh an tAire sinsearach sa Teach don díospóireacht seo. Ní dóigh liom go dtuigeann sé chomh tromchúiseach is atá an cheist seo. Tuigfidh sé é sara mbeidh mí an Mhárta istigh. Is masla don Dáil é agus is masla dos na Teachtaí a thagann anseo chun ionadaíocht a dhéanamh é. Táimid ag iarraidh cás a dhéanamh ar son na cosmhuintire maidir leis an gcáin nua mímhácánta mícheart seo.

Dúirt an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Ó Dubhda, go raibh an Bille seo sa Seanad ar feadh 11 uair. Nuair a thiocfaidh 10 a chlog anocht, ní bheidh ach cúig uaire go leith caite againn ar an reachtaíocht sa Teach seo. Dá bhrí sin, beidh ar a laghad dhá oiread an méid díospóireachta i dTeach nach bhfuil ghnáthdhaoine in ann vóta a chaitheamh dó is a bheidh anseo sa Dáil, ina shuíonn ionadaithe atá tofa go díreach ag muintir na tíre seo. Is masla eile é sin.

It is a despicable slight on the people of Ireland who send representatives to Dáil Éireann that this Bill has been given twice as much time in the Seanad as it will get in the Dáil. The Minister of State has said that it was debated for 11 hours in the Seanad. By the time 10 o'clock comes tonight, it will have been considered by this House for a maximum of five and a half hours. It is not good enough.

I am afraid the Government's whole attitude to this Bill is that it should be rammed through as part of business as usual. The Government thinks things will be all right on the day. It expects people to complain but ultimately to pay up. It will not be so. This tax is a burden too far. It marks the first opportunity for decent tax-paying people to say "No, you are going too far". It will be a referendum on the imposition of unjust taxes at a time when billions are being given to gambling bondholders in respect of whom the Irish people never entered into any contract. Dá bhrí sin, táimid ag cur in aghaidh glan an cuid seo den mBille.

I understand we are discussing amendments Nos. 2, 9, 10 and 13 to 15, inclusive.

We are discussing section 1. DeputyStanley's amendment was ruled out of order. We are dealing with the section as a whole.

On section 1, it is grossly unfair that a person on social welfare who is living in a small house will end up paying the exact same amount of money as a person who lives in a mansion with a dozen bedrooms. This flat tax does not discriminate between those who can pay and those who cannot. No provision has been made for people who are on social welfare payments. It is a very regressive tax.

The whole concept of local taxation for local services and local people is a good idea, but the whole concept of local taxation to pay bondholders is a bad idea. Even if this money was going to the local authorities rather than to the bondholders — we know the Government is taking away the equivalent amount of money — there would be no accountability when the money arrived at local authority level. I oppose this section for many reasons.

I will oppose this section. Many of the measures that have been introduced in recent times are far from fair. The people have had just about enough. This is their first opportunity to have a say on the matter. They cannot do anything about many of the welfare cuts that have been introduced or about the VAT increase, which will have its biggest impact on the less well off. On this occasion people can choose whether to register and pay or can choose not to do so. We had a meeting in Wexford on Monday and many people there were very angry. They do not believe this measure is fair and they have had enough. I will encourage people not to pay.

I had an opportunity to speak on this last night. I will now make points on this section similar to those made by other speakers. The EU-IMF agreement mentioned a property tax. How do we define a property tax? We call this a household charge. It is very similar to the Financial Provisions Act 1983 which introduced water and refuse charges. The Act had nothing to do with water and refuse charges but was about plugging a gap in the local government system. There was a reluctance to increase taxation because of the already very high tax rates, but the Act was quickly found to have nothing to do with water or refuse. This Bill has nothing to do with a household charge. Money is to be paid into a central fund and it is likely there will be an equalisation element to its distribution. No account is taken of ability to pay. If a person is on mortgage interest supplement and cannot work full-time, that will be found out quickly.

There is one point that should be taken into account. Until now, charges such as the universal social charge have been taken from people's wages. The cuts were taken out of social welfare payments and there was a certain element of powerlessness involved. There will not be that same powerlessness with a charge when people must physically go out and opt for paying it. I believe large numbers of people will make the choice and say this is a step too far.

Glacaim leis, i dtosach, nach bhfuil aon rud pearsanta sa mhéid a dúirt an Teachta Ó hUigín thall. Glacaim leis sin.

Tá an Bille seo ann toisc gur déanadh beart ag an Rialtas roimhe seo leis an EU/IMF agus toisc go gcaithfear dlí a dhéanamh chun an t-airgead a bhailiú. Níl aon dul as ag an tír seo ach é sin a dhéanamh. Níl aon rogha againn sa mhéid seo.

B'fhéidir go bhfuil rogha ag cuid den Fhreasúra. Is é an rogha atá acu gan aon airgead ar chor a bith a íoc. Dá dtarlódh sé sin bheadh ganntanas mór airgid sa tír. Muna mbíonn an EU/IMF sásta leis an méid atá déanta ag an Rialtas stopfar an t-airgead a thagann uathu go dtí an tír seo agus titfidh cúrsaí eacnamaíochta, cúrsaí sóisialta, cúrsaí oideachais agus eile as a chéile. Ní bheidh aon airgead ann chun na hospidéil a choimeád oscailte agus dúnfar na scoileanna.

Is féidir leis na Teachtaí rud ar bith gur mhian leo a dhéanamh lena lámha ach sin an fhírinne ghlan. Nil aon dul as againn.

Níor chuala mé aon tuairim nua ón bhFreasúra thall anocht. Níl aon rud nua le rá acu. Tuigeann muintir na hÉireann an deacracht ina bhfuil an tír. Ní hé an Rialtas atá sa deacracht seo ach an tír féin. Caithfear an t-airgead a fháil chun an tír a choimeád slán. Seo an chéad uair gur féidir linn reachtaíocht a chur i bhfeidhm chun cuid den airgead sin a bhailiú.

Ní hé seo deireadh an scéil. Tá an fhírinne á rá agam sa mhéid sin freisin. As seo amach beidh níos mó staidéir á dhéanamh ar conas is féidir cáin réadmhaoine a leagadh a bheadh cothrom do dhaoine a bhfuil a lán airgid agus tithe móra acu agus do dhaoine bochta nach bhfuil ach teach beag nó bothán acu.

I wish to make it very clear. We have no choice but to introduce this legislation.


You had choices.

I did not interrupt anybody so perhaps there might be some manners in the Chamber.

The reason for introducing this legislation is that it is part of the EU-IMF deal. This Government is committed to the deal made by the previous Government in order to keep money coming into the country. This measure is an essential and fundamental part of that agreement. The reality is that if we do not enact it, the cheques will no longer be signed and the money will not come from the EU-IMF. There will be a collapse in our infrastructure and our economy. Our education and health systems will be in very serious difficulties. That is the choice Deputies have to face. If all the Deputies on the other side were sitting on this side of the House, they would have to come up with an alternative. This is an interim measure that will last for two years.

I reiterate what I noted on Second Stage. I will be crystal clear. No individual local authority tenant, in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Drogheda, or wherever, will pay one penny of this charge. The broad general measurement of house ownership here is that if one does not own a house, one will not pay the tax. If a person is in private rented accommodation, he or she will not pay this tax. It is as simple as that. Deputies can shake their heads but that is what is stated in the Bill. If a person is in serious difficulties with a mortgage or is in receipt of a mortgage subsidy from the HSE, he or she will not pay this tax.

As for the builders and all those wonderful people who built estates that fall into categories 3 and 4, the 1,200 appallingly and disgracefully unfinished estates in our country, each of which will be listed and named separately in an order made by the Minister, Deputy Hogan — none of those people there will pay the tax.

I again direct the attention of Deputies to section 12. This section allows a county or city manager to take into account exceptional circumstances in regard to individual cases. A person would have to make a case regarding such exceptional circumstances. There are further powers in the Bill which will allow for that to happen.

The legislation will make local government more accountable because the money collected from this charge is to be ring-fenced solely for local authorities. It is correct to state it will go into a local government central fund but it will be disbursed to local authorities according to a formula that will be fair and equitable. Accordingly, counties that would face a potentially low income will not lose out because they do not have sufficient population base. The system will be fair and equitable.

Deputy Healy spoke about job losses. Let us put this on the line — there will be thousands of job losses if the EU-IMF deal stops and we do not receive the money. This measure will keep people in employment, keep them working in local government. It will put money in place to provide for the cleaning of the streets, the servicing of existing housing stock and the improvement of areas of designated poverty and disadvantage. The proposition to remove the section would take away every one of those provisions.

Accountability will mean that elected representatives at local level will be challenged by voters as to how they performed in the previous year. This will be the first time they will be asked what value they are giving for the money they spend. There will be more accountability, more efficiency and a much more effective local government. For that reason, my party believes this Bill should stand. If it must go to a vote, let us have it.

Question put and declared carried.

Amendment No. 2 is related to amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 13 to 15, inclusive and the amendments may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, subsection (2), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(f) homes purchased under local authority Affordable Housing Schemes;

(g) homes on which stamp duty has been paid from January 1st 2003 up unto December 31st 2011;

(h) homes purchased through Shared Ownership Schemes;

(i) homes affected by pyrite.”.

The Minister claimed the household charge is an interim measure as it will disappear in the future. People realise it is, in fact, the first step to a much heftier form of taxation. Contrary to the Minister's claim that the moneys raised by the charge will be ring-fenced for local authorities and is a positive development, the reality is the Government has slashed local authority budgets by more than will be raised by the household charge.

The other reason for this charge is not that ordinary people have not paid for their public services. In fact, they have consistently paid for them. The Government, however, has decided to divert those moneys to pay unsecured bondholders. It has also refused to tax the very wealthy in society.

We have a principled objection to this regressive and punitive taxation. Even those who do not have a principled opposition to this charge will agree many categories should be excluded from it. The Minister of State, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and the Taoiseach this morning in reply to Deputy Higgins read out long lists of those excluded from this charge when in fact hardly anyone is excluded from it. Those on mortgage interest supplement, those living in ghost estates and tenants are the only ones excluded from this charge. While the Bill states the owner of the property is liable, many landlords are struggling and there is much evidence they will pass this charge on to their tenants.

The majority of households will be targeted. All Members have received e-mails and communications in the past week from various categories of household, such as those on disability allowance, social welfare and the State old age pension, struggling to make ends meet on €200 a week who will not be able to pay the charge. In the interest of fairness, they should be excluded from the charge. Instead, the Government is targeting them to pay a similar amount to that paid by those living in millionaire mansions on Ailesbury Road.

This amendment also proposes to extend exemptions to those who purchased their homes under local authority affordable housing schemes and shared ownership schemes. To apply the charge to those whose houses are in negative equity is just a joke. They should also be excluded from the charge.

The Government has feigned concern for those whose homes are affected by pyrite. Their houses are valueless because they will never be able to sell them as no institution will give a mortgage to buy such a property. In many instances, insurance companies will not cover the home owners who face bills of thousands of euro to rectify their houses. This category must also be excluded from this charge.

The Minister of State claimed there is an exceptional circumstances opt-out clause for local authorities but I cannot find it.

It is in section 12.

Surely, the Minister of State will accept now that these categories, while not exceptional, should be exempted legitimately. Why will he put county managers through hearing all of these cases when he knows those whose homes were affected by pyrite, for example, should be excluded. Will he take the shortcut and build the exemption into the legislation now?

There is a narrow range of exemptions from this charge. The number of recipients of mortgage interest supplement will be significantly reduced next year because all community welfare officers are informing people they cannot get the assistance until they are 12 months in arrears and have spoken to their lenders.

Private tenants are also meant to be exempt from the charge. Anyone suggesting landlords will pay this charge and not pass it on to their tenants is not living in the real world. Former local authority tenants who purchased their houses from their local authority will pay this charge while their neighbours who may still be local authority tenants will not. During the height of the boom, people were told by every Government person and establishment agency that they needed to get on the first rung of the property ladder. Many of them now find themselves in negative equity with mortgages they cannot continue paying. They have not been exempted from the charge either.

The Minister of State claims the charge will only cost €2 a week. We all know the charge will rise to a much more significant figure, probably €1,000, in a short time. I recall when refuse charges were introduced in the then Clonmel Town Corporation, a Fianna Fáil councillor claimed the weekly charge would be the equivalent of the price of a box of matches. People ended up paying a minimum of €400 a year which, when broken down, works out much more than a box of matches every week. The same will happen to the household charge.

This is simply a tax, not a charge. It is not true to give the impression that it will be an additional fund for local authorities. At South Tipperary County Council's estimates meeting last Monday, there was no reference to an increase due to the funding from this charge. Far from it, there was a reduction in the council's fund of €757,000. The household charge is simply a tax, another way of extracting money from ordinary people while making vulnerable middle and low income households pay for a recession they had no hand, act or part in creating.

The Minister of State claimed local authority tenants would be excluded from the household charge. The majority buy their houses by way of mortgage because they have little choice with, for example, 100,000 on local authority housing waiting lists. People have no choice but to house themselves in that way.

I refer to householders who have paid stamp duty. The late Brian Lenihan said on several occasions that we have a property tax called stamp duty. People who bought at the height of the boom were given some welcome relief in the budget but now a charge will be put on the same people the Government has identified as vulnerable. They have paid tens of thousands of euro in stamp duty, which is a property tax, in many cases at inflated rates because house prices were inflated. They should be excluded because they essentially own a debt. They do not own property. The EU-IMF programme says that Ireland will introduce a property tax. What property do these people have? I wish somebody would answer that. They do not have a tangible asset that could be called a property.

The idea that a central fund would make local authorities more accountable is nonsense. People will ask what they are getting in return for this charge. They will experience a reducing level of service at the same time they are asked to pay this. The State has failed to reform local government. I have said on numerous occasions that its structures should be radically reformed. We have a local government administration system rather than a local government system. Its funding is lopsided. The needs and resources model was used to allocate money and it took no account, for example, of population growth. Entire tracts of the State will be left with insufficient services because they have experienced population growth without a corresponding expansion in the services provided.

Everybody knows the €100 charge is an introductory offer. The same argument was used regarding the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1983 and that is one of the reasons people will resist the charge.

With regard to NAMA estates, a differentiation has been made between ghost estates owned by NAMA and those that are not in NAMA. People living in ghost estates may well not be on the list of those who will be exempted and that needs to be clarified. The vast majority of people will be subject to this property tax, which is most unfair. No attention is paid to the ability of an individual to pay the charge.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few observations on the debate. It is obvious that this proposed tax is forced on us by the troika's programme, which has been designed to try to accommodate a workout for something we all know has been unfair. The losses of a banking system that went out of control have not been allocated to the people who funded them and that is the fundamental unfairness we are trying to address under forced circumstances in the programme designed by the troika.

There are a few ways to concentrate the minds of the people who have parked us in this impossible position. We know that the banking system has significant credit provided to it under the emergency liquidity assistance, ELA, provision. Approximately €50 billion has been provided directly by the ECB and an interest rate applies to that. While we may be forced to pass legislation that we do not relish, and certainly our citizens do not, there is a way of capturing the attention of the creditors. We might think about withholding 0.5% of the interest due on the €50 billion of emergency liquidity assistance. That would amount to €250 million a year, which is more than the €160 million the proposed household tax will generate. It is a way of underpinning the presentation of the justified arguments for debt restructuring for our country and getting attention in a nice, fair, commercial way because it links up the dots of how the ELA originated. It arose as a result of funding the exit of senior bondholders during the period that losses had not been acknowledged in the banking system.

While we may not enjoy passing this legislation, there have been honest efforts in the design of it. One can see the handcraft of the Government in a fairly honest effort to try to exclude local authority tenants and people living on unfinished estates. They are honest efforts to try to introduce fairness in a jaggedly imposed Bill, which has been forced on us by the troika. The way to get their attention and to show we do not like to be pushed around is to say we will withhold 0.5% of the interest charge on the ELA until the penny drops with them that the ELA, the creditor finance provided to the banks and the promissory notes on the balance sheet of the Irish Resolution Banking Corporation should be revisited justly and fairly. It is something to think about and I put it forward for the consideration of Members.

We know that the Government will railroad this through because it has a majority but I want to give the Minister of State an opportunity to consider again those on whom he is forcing this unjust and unfair poll tax. Will he consider exempting people who bought their homes over the past six years for €250,000 or €300,000 and who are in negative equity and who paid stamp duty? They were forced to buy to get on the property ladder and they were told they had to do this. People who bought their homes in confidence that would be able to live in them for the rest of their days and now find they have a pyrite issue should also be exempted. Jobseekers and other social welfare claimants such as old age pensioners, blind pensioners, those claiming family income supplement and those claiming disability allowance, the very people the Government tried to attack in the budget but had to step back from, can ill afford to pay this charge. This is an opportunity to review and broaden the exemptions.

My understanding is that the troika insisted on a property tax to extend the tax base. That can be interpreted in many ways. No Member is opposed to a property tax from the point of view of the wealthy paying a tax on their trophy homes. There are other ways to impose a property tax if that is what is needed. Anybody living in an average-sized family home should be exempted from this charge. This is not a property tax; it is a family home tax that is being forced on 1.6 million people.

Reference was made to giving councils some form of accountability. The first thing that should be done is powers should be given back to local authority members to deal with environmental services and the section in the Planning and Development Acts giving all the power to the county or city manager to deal with these issues should be repealed. That would be a very good first step in regard to reforming the councils. They would be able to make those decisions themselves and not hide behind the skirts or suits of city managers, who impose these bin taxes, incinerators and the like on councillors who are elected by the people. That would be the way to go, rather than this way, which does not give councils any sort of accountability whatsoever. It would give councils a stick to beat ordinary people with if they did not pay this tax, and would tell the people they are at fault for not funding the services that are needed.

It is a clever trick which is being brought in by the Government but people can see beyond that and can see that €19 million has been cut from the budget of Dublin City Council on the basis that it will be funded through this unfair tax. This is an opportunity for the Government to reconsider it. The argument is that this will mean people who are affected will have an increase in property tax. If that is the case, the Government should be looking at those who earn under a certain amount, and whose houses are worth a certain amount, so those who can afford to pay a property tax will be those who will be hit. This is an opportunity for the Government to review the charge.

I want to speak on my amendment and also to pick up on a few points that have been made. I am intrigued by Deputy Mathews's point on defaulting on interest payments. Is that the same language as "burning the bondholders"? Perhaps he could enlighten us.

I said "withholding". It serves to concentrate the mind.

I do not know if there is a difference.

It is done in business.

It is intriguing.

It is an example of contagion. He is getting the "don't pay" bug.

It all amounts to keeping more money in this country, which will resonate with many people. How he presented it was an interesting use of language, I will grant him that.

The Minister of State made a number of comments in terms of the Government having no choice. That is patently not the case. It has a range of choices in how it reduces the gap between our expenditure and what the State brings in, and achieving our deficit reduction targets. My party, no more than his own or no more than Sinn Féin or any of the other groupings in the Dáil, has met the troika. Mr. A.J. Chopra said to us, face to face, that he did not mind how the bottom line figures were arrived at once they were arrived at. He told us he was not overly concerned with the detail in terms of the measures to be taken to achieve the bottom line. That is the first point.

The second point is that much play has been made around the four year plan and reducing the budget deficit to 3% by 2014. That was moved out by the Government to 2015, which gives more space. The measure contained in this legislation should be parked in the space that has been provided by moving the deficit reduction period out to 2015.

The Minister of State stated that local authorities will become more accountable. Most Deputies have been members of local authorities and will know they are not accountable. Local authorities basically have sham corporate governance procedures and, while they have audit committees and the like, the local government auditor is not accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and operates completely independent of the Oireachtas. That is not good enough. There is much going on within local government which should be subject to the scrutiny of the Committee of Public Accounts and of the Dáil environment and local government committee.

The McLoughlin report of the local government efficiency review group recommended that €511 million worth of savings can be achieved across the local authority sector per annum. There is extensive scope across the local authorities to achieve these savings before we bring in this flat rate, regressive tax on top of people. From that point of view, we are looking for a number of exemptions.

What we seek in our amendments is similar to what the other groupings and Deputies are speaking in favour of. I will run through the issues dealt with in the amendments. With regard to medical card holders, anybody who holds a medical card should be exempt from payment of the charge if they are the principal of the household. To hold a medical card a person has been subjected to a means test and, arising from that, it has been determined independently that the person does not have the wherewithal to pay to attend the doctor to look after their health, which is so important to them, or to pay for drugs. If a person cannot afford to pay for health services and needs and holds a medical card, it is a logical extension that such a person cannot afford to pay the €100 household charge.

We must bear in mind that many medical cards are granted to people who have exceptional and severe health conditions, and are effectively prisoners within their own homes. This legislation is recognising that people are prisoners within their own homes and taxing them anyway, which is patently unfair and unjust. I believe the Minister of State will agree with me on that, although whether he will agree with the amendment is another day's work. I just want to make the point.

With regard to people who are living with the support of the Department of Social Protection, unemployed people, including those on jobseeker's allowance and benefit, will have been assessed and will be living on €188 a week or less. People who are in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance will also have been subjected to rigorous means testing and they are granted that allowance in addition to their other allowances because they need it. If they are on supplementary welfare allowance, ergo, they will not have the ability to pay the €100 household charge. The position is similar for people on family income supplement and farm assist.

We then move to the senior citizen category, in particular, old age pensioners who are living on State pension only. It does not make sense that these people, who are in the twilight years of their lives, who worked hard to build up the State over generations and who are living only on the humble support provided by the State through the State old age pension, would now be subject to this charge. As pointed out by other speakers, during their working lives many of these people would have bought their houses through local authority mortgages and annuity loans. They now own those properties but they are living on the same support as those living in local authority houses beside them, yet they will be subject to the charge. It is a big issue. The way it is being presented is that anybody who has had any connection to local authority housing through their lifetime will be exempt from this charge, which is not the case. A huge section of people cannot afford to pay this charge but will be brought under the umbrella of the Bill. We are also seeking exemptions for people on disability allowance and benefit, and blind pension.

There is the whole area of the negative equity generation. These people paid stamp duty at the higher rate during the Celtic tiger boom and most, if not all, of that group will find themselves in negative equity. Despite some of them being in receipt of mortgage interest supplement and some of them receiving enhanced mortgage interest relief, which was announced by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, during the Budget Statement, my party considers it reasonable that where a person can prove their mortgage payments have fallen into arrears by 75% — in other words, where they have not made more than 75% of their mortgage payments — or where their property has fallen into negative equity at a level of below 75% of the sum they paid for it, and this is independently certified by a suitably qualified person or financial institution, the persons should be exempt also.

We recognise there are people who can afford to pay the charge and will have no problem in doing so. However, there are very many who are being dragged under the umbrella of this legislation. That is inherently unfair, as is the fact they are being asked to pay into a local authority sector which is not being sweated down in the first instance.

If we arrived at a situation where the local authorities were sweated down to the degree detailed in the local government efficiency report, where savings of €500 million were identified and implemented, and if there was a sweated down efficient local government service across the country, then raising taxes to give to local authorities might be looked on differently from raising taxes to put into a service which has been identified as highly inefficient.

We must adjourn at this stage.

I might outline at this stage who has indicated to speak. I suggest when we recommence after Private Members' business that the Deputies get the opportunity to speak in the same order. Deputy Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan was next, followed by Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Wallace, Higgins and Stanley, and Deputy Mathews.

Could we invite the Labour Party Deputies to come in for these motions? They could champion the plight of the downtrodden whom they claim to be concerned about.

I will leave it to Deputy Higgins to invite them.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.