Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, are out of order and may not be moved. Deputies may speak on the section but not on the amendments.
Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill 2012: Committee Stage
I raise a point of order. Standing Orders state that every amendment must be relevant to the motion to which it is proposed and must be directed to omitting, adding or substituting words. It is also stated in Standing Orders that no amendment which is equivalent to a direct negative shall be accepted. The amendment in the name of Deputy Boyd Barrett and in my name, suggesting a realistic and truthful name for this so-called local property tax to the effect that it be called the bondholders' and bankers' bailout tax, does just that. It suggests a different name for the Bill. Why is it ruled out of order?
May I elaborate Deputy Higgins's point? The amendments are to section 1, which is the definitions section of the Bill. The basis of my amendment is that we believe the Title we propose is, objectively, a more accurate description of the Bill. I do not see how it could possibly be out of order. In a telephone call from the Department, we were told the amendment was declaratory in nature. It is not. It simply says we believe the Title we propose is a better, more appropriate and more accurate name for the Bill. It tells us more correctly what the Bill is and what is in it.
The amendments have been ruled out or order. Therefore, we need to proceed.
A number of amendments have been ruled out of order, and I am not challenging the ruling of the Ceann Comhairle in that regard. There is, however, a need for clarification for future legislation. This is not a property tax. The Minister knows what property is. It is not just a home. It also includes other assets, such as stocks and shares, gold, savings and so on. The Bill proposes a home tax and that would be the most apt Title for the Bill.
Amendment No. 1, which has also been ruled out of order, gives the Government the opportunity to look at other revenue collecting possibilities by imposing a real property tax. If we are debating a property tax Bill, as the Title of the Bill suggests, amendment No. 1, submitted in my name, provides for a real property tax that looks at the net assets of individuals.
As we go through the Bill we will see that we are, in many instances, taxing debt. Where people have mortgages that are in excess of the value of their family home, we are taxing a liability or taxing debt. That is what the Government intends to bring through.
There are 88 amendments before the House and we have three hours to debate Committee Stage, which gives us less than two minutes per amendment. Deputies also have a democratic right to call votes, which will eat into that time. I know it is embarrassing for the Minister for Finance, given the commitment made by him and all Government party Deputies, before they came into office, to oppose a recurring residential property tax. It is appalling that we are in this situation.
I must stop you there, Deputy. There is no problem in Deputies speaking on the section. The first three amendments have been ruled out of order and I have given Members the reason for that. If the House wishes to debate the section, you may speak first, Deputy Doherty, followed by Deputy Catherine Murphy. Minister, did you wish to speak?
I raise a point of order. I think I should have read the financial resolution before the debate began.
The resolution was read after the Order of Business by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, not moved.
Section 1 deals with when the Act will come into operation and the Title of the Act, which deems it a local property tax. That is an offence to what is contained in the legislation because it is not a local property tax. Property is far more than a family home. If the Government really wanted to introduce an assets tax or property tax, it would have proposed something similar to what I proposed in amendment No. 1.
In their election manifestos, every Deputy from Fine Gael and the Labour Party, including the Minister for Finance, told the electorate they were opposed to an annual recurring residential property tax. The Bill is cited as the Finance (Local Property Tax). This tax is recurring and is in complete breach of the Government's mandate. This is another broken promise in relation to that mandate.
This will be a tax on debt. This is not a tax on property. It is a tax on people's mortgage liabilities and on negative equity. People paid thousands, if not tens of thousands, of euro in stamp duty. No party has a mandate to bring forward the type of taxation measure that is before us today. The only party that went to the electorate with a proposal to introduce a recurring property tax was Fianna Fáil. That was different in nature, being a site value tax. This tax has no mandate from the public and should not be brought before us today.
It is embarrassing for the Minister, given the commitments he gave when he walked the highways and byways telling people there would not be an annual recurring residential property tax. It is an offence to pretend this is a property tax that, somehow, widens the tax base. The Government is dipping its hands into the pockets of struggling home owners. We know from last week's report that one in four home owners has a difficulty paying their mortgage and is in mortgage distress. These are the people into whose pockets the Government intends to dip its hand next July and who will be asked to pay for a home on which they cannot even pay the mortgage to keep a roof over their heads.
I have a problem with the Title of the Bill on a number of grounds. First, I cannot figure out what piece of property someone owns if they are in negative equity. If a person's income is below a certain threshold and the tax is deferred, the liability can follow that person around, even after their house has been repossessed. Second, the word "local" is a misnomer. Only 65% of the revenue raised will be spent locally. The other 35% could be redistributed in a very unfair way.
The Title is important. It is wrong to call this a Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill.
The local authorities have had their funds dipped into in the past two or three years and there is now a gaping hole. This is a way of substituting for that by making people pay a tax that in many cases is essentially a form of income tax because it is coming out of their wages or social welfare payments in the same way as a normal PAYE deduction. It is dishonest to call it a property tax.
It is mendacious in the extreme to refer to this new imposition as a local property tax. It is not levied locally; it is levied by central government, and central government is putting one of the most centralised authorities in the State, the Revenue Commissioners, in charge of administering and attempting to collect it. It is not in any sense a local tax; it is a bankers and bondholders bailout tax designed to gouge €250 million from low and middle income earners and social welfare recipients this year, and double that in a full year. It represents Fine Gael and the Labour Party slavishly continuing the disastrous capitulation to the troika, the establishment of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF, and continuing the bailout of bondholders and bankers, making up for their disastrous gambling losses on Irish property by placing a massive burden on ordinary working class people. A local property tax would be raised locally and spent locally. In fact, as we know, this is a crude replacement for the €170 million the Government cut from the local government fund in the budget for 2012.
I am not among those Deputies from the Government parties who cynically came in here to raise the issue of distinction and alleged unfairness between rural and urban residents because urban households are more expensive and will therefore face a greater tax burden, with tax rates in Dublin subsidising places outside Dublin. I am in favour of national subsidisation of people and services, not of localism or setting country against town. The name of the tax, however, and the attempt by the Government to portray it as a local property tax must be challenged.
The reality is that the Minister had many alternatives that could raise the amount of money about which he talks with this tax, and far more. In a reply to a parliamentary question the Minister gave to me on a simple gradation of extra taxation of income over €100,000 and €200,000, he said €1.1 billion could be raised next year. Another model the ULA used based on substantive figures suggested €2.5 billion could be raised while leaving people with millions in income on a yearly basis still quite wealthy. That is before we even consider wealth or corporation taxes.
We should also object to the description of this tax as a local property tax because of the Government spin that this represents a broadening of the tax base, as if it would come from some mysterious force and not from the incomes of working people and social welfare recipients and pensioners, as if every householder has a crock of gold hidden somewhere into which he or she can dip to pay this "local" property tax. The provision for deduction at source, where the Government will grant the Revenue Commissioners the power to instruct employers to take the money in the same way and from the same income as income tax on the same day it is paid, gives the lie to the suggestion that this is a new, progressive broadening of the tax base.
It is appropriate to warn the Government at the start of Committee Stage that there is a burning fuse of anger in society generally resulting from the unjust bailout and the burden being placed on ordinary people, the massive cuts, the disastrous austerity and all that follows, the mass unemployment, the cuts to services and the suffering of our people, the negative equity and those who paid stamp duty now being hit again. There is a burning anger out there and there will be a massive revolt on this issue, far greater even than on the household tax, as the true implications of this tax are born out. There will be a huge conscious and organised movement among masses of people to boycott this process and to refuse to register or to pay. The Revenue Commissioners will regret the day they were given the power to administer and to try to collect this tax. It is one thing trying to collect from self-employed people and small businesses, those who want to make arrangements because they have problems paying, but it is another thing to face a mass movement of opposition by an enraged population, the majority of whom believe it is utterly unjust and unaffordable in many cases and that it is simply a bondholders and bankers bailout tax. There will be a massive revolt and resistance. Even at this stage, the Government should be forced to redraw this regressive and unjust measure.
In so far as this section deals with the title of the Bill, in many ways it gets to the heart of the dishonesty and cynicism that lies behind it. It is simply an abuse of language and meaning to call this a property tax, particularly in the context of the unprecedented popular campaign of resistance and boycott against the unjust household charge.
The Government claimed repeatedly it would bring in this tax as a replacement to the household charge, which it was forced to abandon, and that it would introduce a fair and progressive system, effectively implying it would be a wealth tax. We on the left had consistently called for such a tax in recent years and thought it was about to be introduced.
That, however, is not what this is at all. It is absolutely clear at a range of levels that it is not a property tax in the sense of property being real wealth held by what most people understand to be the wealthy, those with lots of property, the men and women of property, as they were called when people like Wolfe Tone tried to organise the men and women without property.
It was understood what that meant. It meant that there were some people who had lots of wealth and property and there were some who had little or none.
This is not a tax being imposed on those who have huge accumulations of wealth and property. This is a tax being imposed on every ordinary citizen in this country regardless of their ability to pay. It is a tax simply on the roof over their head, which is effectively a tax on the right to live in a civilised way. It is an obnoxious attack on ordinary citizens, utterly disregarding their capacity to pay it, to survive, to pay their bills, to educate their children and to manage in this extraordinarily difficult situation in which so many find themselves.
Earlier today in the Dáil the Taoiseach effectively admitted this. When Deputy Higgins asked him, given that four years ago he railed against any attempt to put a tax on the family home, why he is now imposing just such a tax, he said that things had changed and that we are in an extraordinarily difficult situation. He was referring, of course, to the financial collapse caused by developers, bankers, speculators, bondholders and all the rest of it. In other words he was acknowledging precisely the point we were making in referring to it as a bondholders' tax and that is what it is. There was no morality or progressiveness to it - it was simply an austerity tax being imposed in order to satisfy the troika and ensure the protection of the bankers and bondholders and to make ordinary people pay for that fact. It clearly confirms what we and everybody else in the country knows and believes to be the case. That the Government persists in trying to pretend it is progressive or a property tax in any sense that ordinary people would understand is pure dishonesty and spin on its part.
Another piece of evidence of how dishonest the attempt to call it a property tax is illustrated by what is happening in the local authorities. I presume what happened in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council this week is being replicated everywhere else. The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county manager was asked why the budget going through the council this week makes no mention of the property tax even though Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will be required to pay €7 million to the central government to meet its obligations under this property tax. The county manager was asked where he would get the money if he is sent such a bill by the Revenue Commissioners and he said it would go onto the rents of council tenants. So people who have no property will have this imposed on them by the local authority, which clearly indicates this is just a tax on ordinary people. It is not a property tax and the bill will be paid by local authority tenants.
Similar points have been made about people in negative equity. This is taxing the ball and chain around people's legs. This is like attaching a ball and chain to somebody, throwing them into the river, asking them why they cannot swim and threatening menaces and punishments because they cannot swim. It is outrageous. The homes of people, whose mortgages are like an albatross around their necks, some of which are damaged by pyrite or have major structural problems such as in Priory Hall cannot in any meaningful sense be described as property - as a form of wealth - on which it is legitimate to levy a tax.
The real giveaway which totally exposes the lies being used to justify the Bill is that it is being collected by the Revenue Commissioners, the people who collect income tax, and not by the local authorities. It will not increase in any way the provision of services or the funds available to local government. In fact, as I have just explained, local government will have to give money back to central government, having less money for services and punishing their tenants. That it is being collected by the Revenue Commissioners exposes the implication that somehow ordinary people have a different pot of money. The Minister is guilty of using the sort of mythology we tell children when they ask where we will get the money and they are told that it is on the money tree in the back garden. Does the Minister believe that hundreds of thousands of citizens, who are unemployed or have had their incomes savaged and are in mortgage distress, have money trees growing in the back garden and that they will be able to go and pick the money from the tree on their property in order to pay this tax? It is ludicrous.
Why does the Minister not tell the truth at least in the title of this tax and call it what it is? It is a tax to satisfy the greed of the bankers and bondholders being imposed on the roofs over the heads of ordinary citizens of this country regardless of whether they own that roof, regardless of their ability to pay it and regardless of their ability to keep food on the table for their children. It is shameful.
I call Deputy Michael McGrath. I point out there are a good number of speakers.
I understand and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to speak to section 1. Sometimes I despair about how we conduct our business in the House.
I do not believe there is an organisation anywhere in the country that would make a decision of any importance in the way we are making this decision. This is an historic Bill and probably one of the most important Bills this Dáil will discuss. It has 159 sections and there are 88 Committee Stage amendments. Here we are with less than three hours left before the Bill will be rammed through the House.
The first half hour has been wasted by the Opposition on total bombast.
No it is not; it is telling the truth.
The truth the Minister does not want to hear.
Deputy Michael McGrath has the floor.
The Minister will not hear any bombast form me. I will make a few points and I want us to get down to the detail of the Bill. I remind the Minister as other Deputies have done that he does not have any mandate to introduce this property tax Bill because he said he would not do it. In the general election campaign he and his party campaigned on the basis that it would not introduce any annual recurring tax on the family home. His party claimed it would be unfair and it was considering alternatives such as increasing user charges for waste. The central idea it had was a local site sale profits tax. It claimed that both of those would be fairer and more economically sensible than an annual recurring property tax. That is the basis on which Fine Gael contested the election and got the votes. The Labour Party advocated a site-value tax but suggested that people in negative equity should be taken into account as should people who paid stamp duty. It also argued that certain categories would need to be exempt. So there is no mandate for the introduction of this property tax by the Government.
At the heart of it, the flaw is that the Government is not taking into account in any way the ability to pay. It is not taking into account the respective value of the mortgage attached to the property. The Minister concluded his Second Stage speech by saying: "This tax is also structured to adhere to the Government's other key objective to be fair and progressive - the wealthiest will pay the most". That is absolutely untrue. This is not a tax on wealth because if it was the Government would allow people to net off against the value of the property the respective value of the mortgage. That would be a start in this debate. Let us not dress up this Bill as something it is not - it is not a tax on wealth and it takes no account of ability to pay. As I said to the Taoiseach in this House earlier, a family with two, four or six children with a gross weekly income of anything more than €480 per week will not be able to defer this tax in full, which is ridiculous. The Government is giving people in mortgage arrears the choice of paying a property tax or trying to service their mortgage in some way. This is in no way a fair tax.
I lament the way in which we are dealing with this Bill. I hope we can get down to some business but if the Minister had any sense, he would put it back to the new year. When the Taoiseach was challenged in the House today about why there was such a rush to bulldoze it through the House, he replied that we were taking up the Presidency of the EU on 1 January and we need to get these things out of the way. I can tell the Minister that this Bill and the property tax are far more important to most ordinary Irish people than Ireland taking up the Presidency of the EU. There is no logical reason we cannot return to this in January and debate it in a mature and responsible way.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this debate. My contribution will be short. Looking to my right, it is interesting to note that the only member of the Labour Party present is a man involved in the campaign for Labour policy because the rest have forgotten what they campaigned on. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, confirmed that the other night on television.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 to section 1 are about trying to get the language straight. I regret that amendment No. 1 from Sinn Féin is not being taken. Language is everything. Let us take the terms "serviceman" and "terrorist". The serviceman is the guy in the aeroplane with the big bomb, while the terrorist is the fellow on the ground with the small bomb. That is the way it works. There are cuts and there are adjustments but could somebody tell me the difference between them? We have a property tax and a family home tax so language is used to cover everything. The Labour Party and Fine Gael are deliberately using false language to mislead people about what is happening.
I will make a short appeal. The Government will tax the disabled, the unemployed, pensioners and the low paid. These are the people who are hungry behind closed doors this evening. I met some of them in the past week. They are people who bought houses and who, up to three or four years ago, were flying and did not need help from the State or anyone else. They were net contributors who were pouring money into the coffers of the State in VAT, PAYE and stamp duty. They are now in dire straits but will be slapped with this penal tax of €300, €400 or €500. We should get the language straight.
Somebody raised a point about council tenants. Council tenants do not have any wealth invested in the house. They pay rent, which the Government will put up because that is what will happen when this Bill is passed back to the county managers. They will charge it on the local authority rent. The Government is taxing a liability in the case of people in negative equity. It is taxing people in significant negative equity. There are properties in the estate next to me that were bought for €250,000 during the boom but are now worth €50,000. That is what the Government is going to tax. Does the Minister realise that and can he look those people in the face and tell them he is going to tax a liability? We need to get the language straight here.
I am saying this truthfully, if the Minister can put the economics to one side. We have presented the alternative based on figures from the Minister's officials. Surely, he is not going to call the people on his right liars? Will anybody here call them liars and say the data they gave to us in answer to parliamentary questions are false? They were not false because they do not do that. I have that much respect for them.
The Minister will push families over the edge. I recently met people who I had not seen for 12 or 14 months. I saw the deterioration in their physical and mental health. They were strong people, some of whom had their own small businesses, but they are now broken financially, physically and mentally. In the past week, people have sat across the table from me in my constituency office and talked about suicide. One man told me he considered finishing things last Thursday. Normally, I refer people to the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection or the money advice and budgeting service. I referred this person to the Samaritans.
I want the Minister to take this on board and stop. There is still time to pull back from this and he does not need to rush it through. The only reason he is rushing it through is so that Deputies on the Government benches can go back to their constituencies, eat their Christmas dinner in peace and not be harassed by constituents trying to change this. The Minister knows that if he leaves this until January, constituents will turn the heat up, especially on Labour Party Deputies and Fine Gael backbenchers. I am asking the Minister to have some humanity, change the language in this Bill and look again at it. For God's sake, let him think of the people who built up and carried this country but who are on their knees and broken in the three ways I described and stop it once and for all.
I am very happy to contribute to this debate. I have been in this House for about 14 months. If a debate lasting a couple of hours on an issue of this nature is what passes for democracy for this country, we have some very serious questions to answer. It is not real debate and it is not appropriate to say that people contributing to the debate are engaging in bombast. This is the only opportunity elected Members of this House from all parties and political philosophies get to discuss this issue because it is being railroaded through. This is wrong regardless of who the Government is. It should be said that it is totally undemocratic.
I have a few things to say about the Title of this Bill. When people talk about this so-called property tax, they need to stop saying it is progressive. It is not progressive. A tax that is progressive is based on income and ability to pay. Someone on the average industrial wage will face the same liability for this tax as someone earning a six figure sum. That is not progressive, rather it is regressive. Any economist or first-year student of political economy can tell the difference between a progressive and regressive tax. It is quite simple.
I am disappointed that amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order because my colleagues, Deputy Tommy Broughan and Nessa Childers MEP, have put similar proposals to the Minister about a wealth tax. My amendment in respect of section 17, which would increase the tax on homes worth over €1 million to 1% rather than 0.5%, has been ruled out of order. That would be a very moderate increase that the Minister could introduce later on this evening on Report Stage if he wanted to. I understand that it would bring in an extra €24 million which would pay for the restoration of the respite care grant, the cut in which was forced through last week. I understand it was the Minister and other Fine Gael Ministers who blocked an increase in income tax for people earning €100,000 per year because they are obsessed with protecting and looking after them. It is a case of protect the rich at all costs but attack people on low incomes.
I spoke to someone last week who paid €10,000 in stamp duty, is unemployed and faces losing their home. Where is this person going to get the extra €250 or €300 to pay this tax? The Minister must provide an explanation because this person faces losing their home. Their asset is wrapped around their neck and they do not know how to get out of the suffocating personal debt they have. The Personal Insolvency Bill will not address it either. We cannot go on getting blood from a stone and sucking money out of the economy, which is costing jobs. The budget will cost 40,000 jobs, according to the Nevin Economic Research Institute. That is not economic recovery. This Bill is not progressive. It is another attack on working people. Unless there is a dramatic change in economic policy, this economy will stagnate for years with massive structural unemployment and people picking up the pieces for years to come. This is the reality we face unless we change course. This tax is the wrong tax on the wrong people, although Fianna Fáil opposing it is absolute hypocrisy.
I have listened to what the other Deputies have had to say. Deputy Joe Higgins may represent a very different electorate from me but when he says there will be resistance to this tax, he is right. The Government has, in an extraordinary way, misread the mood regarding this tax.
The Government has almost unprecedentedly managed to unite middle Ireland, people who are quite prosperous, people on middle incomes and people on lower incomes because this tax is a sledge-hammer which does not allow for anybody who is poor bar those earning up to approximately €15,000. It does not allow for any exceptions for negative equity, mortgage arrears or stamp duty and expects middle Ireland to accept it.
The Minister should realise this is possibly a tipping point where he will see resistance which he did not anticipate. There is nothing more guaranteed to garner and unite opposition to the Government than this particular tax. The Title to the Bill which we are debating summarises it perfectly. It is a lie. This is not a property tax or just a local tax. It is typical of those who draft Bills of this sort that they now produce syrupy words and show contempt for the electorate by expecting people to accept them as a description of what is inside the Bill. This is not what is in the Bill. The Bill is a tax on people who have a roof over their heads regardless of whether they are part of middle Ireland. This misjudgement of the mood is something the Government will live to regret. The Government knew perfectly well - this is what is so distressing - when it drafted the Bill and called in the ranks of the Revenue Commissioners that it could not collect it in the way it normally does. It is not a local property tax Bill because it will be levied by the people who are the most central to the collection of tax in the country, and not only the most efficient but the most feared. To ask the Revenue Commissioners is bringing in a dimension which states we know it cannot be collected in any other way.
I was not an advocate or supporter of the household charge resistance campaign but it was effective in one way because it showed there is a tipping point for a large number of people whereby they will no longer pay their tax or cannot do so. In this case it is worse because the Government realised people cannot afford to pay it so it introduced a tyrannical measure. The Government said these people cannot afford it but someone in the Department said it is a good bookkeeping exercise so it will be levied and taken from their pay. I do not want to be over-dramatic but I think it is true that those who have had it docked from their pay or social welfare will have to make hard choices. They must decide whether they can eat properly, what they will feed their children and whether they will live in the cold. The one thing that will happen is that they must pay their property tax. This is an unforgivable way to govern. It is inhuman. It is saying we are desperate and the people will be more desperate. It is taking orders from elsewhere and making the people suffer unbearable punishment and penalties.
I cannot understand why the Government did not realise the pain it is imposing on people with this. Everybody in their constituencies comes across this on a daily basis and it is extraordinary. The mention of property tax has that unifying effect which is anti-government and anti-establishment, and has the potential to garner a rebellion on the taxation issue which has not been seen here before.
It is disgraceful what is happening here today. I understand what the Minister said about bombast, but it was his Government which refused to give us time to discuss this on Second Stage. This is why the Minister is hearing Second Stage speeches now, because nobody had an opportunity to do so before. This is further evidence of the contempt with which measures of this importance are treated by the Government, because they are rammed through Parliament and then the Government says those taking advantage of the rules to get a debate going which was not evident on Second Stage are somehow committing oratorical sins. This is the only opportunity the Government is giving us to do so. We are sacrificing the amendments, which everybody in the House knows will be treated with contempt and will not be accepted, so we might as well take advantage of this period to say some of the things we were not able to say on Second Stage.
As several speakers have said, this is not a tax on property exclusively. It is a tax, as Deputy Doherty and other stated, on debt. Perhaps in his reply the Minister will be able to give us another example. Are overdrafts or fixed loans taxed? Is there anywhere else where debt is actually taxed? It is so punitive and thoughtless. A sledge-hammer was taken and it was decided to make very few exceptions.
The idea of a deferral is further hypocrisy and cruelty because it is saying to those who defer they cannot afford it, which they cannot as otherwise they would not defer. Only those in dire straits will be able to defer but in doing so they will incur another debt and be charged for it. They will be put in a spiral out of which they will no longer be able to escape. This is the thinking behind the Bill. I do not know which Ministers or members of the Government decided this but its insensitivity smacks to me of some very insensitive mandarins who decided €500 million is to be made in this way so it should be introduced because it makes good economic sense. It makes for human misery. This is the thinking behind the Bill.
It is fair to say those in Dublin, Cork and urban areas have not been treated fairly. It would be only reasonable to have a debate at least on this aspect.
We are discussing section 1.
I know and I am explaining why the Title is wrong and I will elaborate on it. Section 1 is about whether it is a local property Bill and I am addressing the issue.
The issue of whether people in Dublin and other urban areas or in areas where property is more valuable than an identical or similar property in a rural or another area is fair to debate and should be addressed. It seems very unfair that those with smaller earnings and larger borrowings but nominally more valuable houses should have to pay more in this tax than those with large earnings, identical houses and smaller borrowings. This is the situation. Many people in my constituency of Dublin South and elsewhere will suffer because the Minister, the Government and the Department of Finance are absolutely unprepared to make any reasonable concessions on this or on the question of stamp duty. Young people hit by cuts to child benefit, changes to PRSI and the other measures which have hit middle Ireland are not able to pay this tax and one reason for this is they have already paid tens of thousands of euro in stamp duty to the Government which they regard as a property tax.
I remind the House many speakers wish to contribute.
I tried to speak last week on the Bill but unfortunately time did not allow so I was told I would have an opportunity to speak on Committee Stage.
It was guillotined.
Deputy Bannon voted for the guillotine.
That is why we are having Second Stage again.
Deputy Nulty was correct when he spoke about the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil because we all know-----
This is Deputy Bannon's Bill and he cannot disown it.
Deputy McGrath has a very short and blinkered memory.
My memory is fine.
There is nothing wrong with his head.
Deputy Bannon has a very short memory. Does he want to see what he proposed last year? I suggest he reads it. That is how he got the votes in Longford-Westmeath. He lied to the people. He should admit it.
Deputy Michael McGrath cannot display those posters.
Deputy Bannon should not talk about it.
I want the same respect for Deputy Bannon as everybody else received.
Deputy Bannon should stop waffling.
Deputy Michael McGrath is like the bride in Cinderella - whiter than white.
There it is. I will give Deputy Bannon a copy.
This property tax has been pushed on us by the EU-IMF in co-operation with Fianna Fáil after that party bankrupt this country and sold us down the river. This is the party that called itself republican, although it depends on the constituency in which one was during the past election. In some constituencies, they had the republican banner loud and clearly visible on their election literature. In others, they had it tiny because-----
Is this relevant to section 1?
-----people realised that they sold us down the river.
I would say Deputy Bannon's logo will be fairly small on the next occasion. One would need binoculars to see it.
Order, please. Deputy Bannon on section 1.
The mismanagement of the economy was brought about by the actions of Fianna Fáil in the Galway tent and other places over the year rather than doing the business of the Dáil in this House. The current leader of Fianna Fáil had his hands, and, indeed, head, in the Government for the past 14 years.
Has Deputy Bannon forgotten that he is in government now?
Is that what Deputy Bannon has to say to the people who must pay their tax?
People do not forget that.
The angry man of the previous Dáil.
Is that how Deputy Bannon will defend it?
I hope they will not forget that.
They will not forget Deputy Bannon either.
They will not forget Deputy Bannon.
A hot-air balloon.
Will the Deputies settle down, please?
I see the terrible twins are backing up Deputy Michael McGrath.
We are telling the truth.
They are rejects from Fianna Fáil, as bad as it was.
We are telling the truth.
Deputy Bannon himself is a reject.
No doubt this property will add to the burden and, indeed, hardship, of many throughout the country, and that is unfortunate.
What about the big farmers up the tree-lined avenues?
There are many who are on low incomes going through rough times and who cannot afford to pay the €100 household charge all at once. I would plead with the Minister to include in this legislation an easy payment system for the less well-off-----
Bring in the sheriff.
-----similar to what-----
The Revenue Commissioners' sheriff.
-----applies in the collection of motor tax. There is an easy payment system of motor tax and it is something the Minister could include in this Bill.
Deputy Bannon has not read the Bill.
Or Deputy Bannon could tell us where the money tree is?
That would be important. I also fear-----
I did not know Deputy Bannon did fear.
-----that a penal property tax could lead to the loss of our architectural heritage.
The big houses and small farmers.
Back in the 1940s and 1950s when rates were in being, many fine period residences were unroofed because their owners were not able to meet the cost of high rates.
They are now being robbed for the lead.
Our heritage is important to us and it is the cornerstone of our tourism industry. There should be provision in the Bill to protect heritage homes.
What about the ordinary homes?
Our heritage is about what we inherit from the past. There is a need to protect heritage, in particular, the built heritage which includes homes, monuments, parks, gardens, historic sites, etc. Heritage provides links to the past. It is important that we maintain those and make some provision in the Bill to protect heritage homes.
The landed gentry.
There are grants from the Heritage Council to refurbish some of those buildings-----
We will exempt Deputy Reilly's house.
-----but there should be some provision made.
One should put down an amendment.
I thank the Deputies.
The cost of maintaining a heritage home is excessive. Many would say that they would prefer to rebuild a house rather than refurbish it, but they are important links with the past. Perhaps the Minister would concede to some provision or maybe, in conjunction with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, he could look at this important area.
We all are suffering because of the fraud, corruption and cover-up by some former politicians, some senior executives and some senior bankers in Ireland. They are responsible for the illegal theft of taxpayers' money and the ruination of the country-----
Theft is illegal.
-----that has left the economy in complete meltdown. This is why we had to bring in a tough budget and take tough decisions. Hopefully, there will be light at the end of the tunnel and we will rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, as a better people and society.
I will be brief because I am aware there are many amendments and many Members have touched on many of the issues already. I want to touch on a few matters regarding this Bill.
The introduction of this property tax will be one of the biggest issues facing this Government. There are families - I am not sure whether the Minister's colleagues come across this but we on this side of the House are coming across it every day of the week - who cannot put bread on the table and cannot put clothes on their children, and whose worry this Christmas is that they cannot even buy a Christmas present for their young children, and now the Minister is imposing a property tax on them.
This week alone, a married couple came into my office worrying about their three children. This was a middle-class couple, both of whom were working and at the end of the month, with everything paid, all they had left was €10 or €15 to enjoy themselves, and now the Minister is imposing a property tax on them. The big worry is that the Minister is bringing the Revenue Commissioners in to collect it. It is bad enough to impose a tax on them, but now there is that fear.
These are law abiding citizens. They do not want to break the law. They want to be in the position to pay their taxes. They want to be in the position to put their children through school and college and to service their loans, but many of them are not in that position at present.
The Minister cannot cut his way out of recession. The only way one can get out of recession is to spend one's way out. The Minister is taking money out of the economy, people are not spending and businesses are closing.
The Minister spoke of deducting this at source from they pay. What about those who are in rented houses where the landlord is supposed to pay? Will they get away with this and the landlord not pay? I am aware of cases around the country where landlords own 20, 30 or 40 houses and have not even paid the household charge. How will the Minister get the tax off them? Those living in rented accommodation will be exempt and the poor ones are being penalised for buying their house. They paid their taxes on the house when they bought it and now the Minister will impose another charge on them.
As many Members stated here, why must this Bill be guillotined tonight? While seated on the other side of the House on many occasions I saw the Members opposite expressing outrage when guillotines were imposed. They even stated when on this side of the House that if they were in government they would never do that. One of the most important Bills, that will affect every person because we all must live in houses, will be guillotined at 11 o'clock tonight. The Minister need not bring in the guillotine tonight. He should give everybody an opportunity to debate this.
There was mention that we would see improved services in the local authorities. We will not. I am aware that one local authority stated that if it got extra funding, it would use it to pay off its loans. The funding will end up going back to the banks.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, stated that if one wanted one's estate road tarred or side road tarred, the locals would have to pay towards that as well - he is providing a €10 million fund. That is another tax.
Deputy Grealish is moving away from section 1.
I have other issues that I hope to raise during the course of the Bill. I ask the Minister not to guillotine this Bill tonight and to listen to the Members on this side of the House.
The Title of the Bill is somewhat misleading. In schools of policy, they say that a good policy must meet three criteria: it must be technically correct, which is usually the job of the officials; it must be politically acceptable, which is usually the job of the politicians; and it must be implementable. This so-called local property tax seems to fail all three of those. It is clearly not politically acceptable. The Minister will ram it through. He will whip his Deputies to vote but it is not politically acceptable to the public. It will be difficult to implement because the Revenue Commissioners do not have the kind of data they need and they may not have the resources they need.
I am most surprised at the Minister, Deputy Noonan in respect of the following area: the Bill is technically flawed. I am curious as to where this arises. It can arise from one of only four sources, namely, from the Minister himself, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, the officials in the Department of Finance or the officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
The Thornhill report.
The Thornhill report says 0.1% but the Minister for Finance has opted for twice that.
They would not publish that report until recently.
We can talk about the Thornhill report later.
It said to go back to council houses.
They said a lot of things the Minister is not doing. I have paid local property tax in London and elsewhere abroad. I did not mind paying it because it provided me with local services. I got a letter from the council explaining what I had paid and what I was getting for it. This Bill, however, does none of those things and it is grossly unfair.
I am bemused as to why the Minister is going ahead with this. It is not for local services. If it were, people in County Wicklow and South Dublin County would not pay more than anybody else when the services are less expensive to produce. Therefore we know it is not for local services. It is astounding that the Minister is not looking at the net value of the house. As someone of that generation who knows many people in negative equity, including myself, it astounds me that any government would say, "You made a big mistake. You were one of the parties involved in that mistake and it has financially wiped you out. Your generation who did that will get back to zero at about 55 years of age. For the rest of your lives this one mistake you made will destroy you financially, but we are going to tax you on that".
I have a student loan, so why does the Minister not tax me on that? I am sure that many Members of the House have overdrafts, so why does he not tax them? It is extraordinary. In addition, the Minister is not bringing in an inability to pay clause. Why not? As Deputy Ross and others have said, what will the Minister say to those who do not have money to feed their children? What will he tell those who walk into our constituency offices - and I am sure the Minister's also - and say they have suicidal thoughts or their children are hungry?
A person may live in a house the market value of which might be €250,000 yet it was purchased for €500,000. That person and their partner have lost their jobs, so they have nothing but they will now have to pay another €500 in property tax. What is the Minister going to say to those people?
I have gone through all the amendments and I notice that the Minister has not tabled a single one. We will not get through all of these amendnemtns, which are well meaning and technically sound. They have been tabled by many Deputies but we will not get through them. The Minister may describe all of this as bombast, but this is the only chance we get to try to represent the people. Does the Minister intend to accept any of these amendments or will we just go back and forth for the remaining two hours or so, before the Government Deputies vote against them? I would like to know if the Minister intends to accept any of these amendments.
I have a final word for the Government Deputies, none of whom is present in the Chamber.
Which is shocking.
If any of them happen to be listening on their office monitors, a lot of strong rhetoric was used in the Chamber in the small amount of time given on Second Stage to change this Bill. Yet, very unusually, the Minister has not tabled a single amendment - not one. Members of the Select Sub-Committee on Finance - including myself, Deputies Doherty, Michael McGrath, Boyd Barrett, Higgins and others - will not get a chance to look at this measure. Neither will the Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government. Any Government Deputies who may be listening to this should note that their Minister has not tabled a single amendment, which means that they have no influence. It also entirely negates their argument that it is better to be in the party because one can influence legislation. They have been unable to change a single letter of one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the Dáil in this Government's lifetime. If people like Deputy Mitchell, who said this would cause revolution in the country, believe what they said, then as public representatives they should vote against the Bill.
Nevertheless, I suppose we will go on. I would be interested to know if the Minister intends to accept a single amendment. If not, we could do away with this sort of parliamentary charade we seem to be engaged in.
I will not take up too much time because many of the points have been made. I wish to put on the record, however, the fact that this is probably the most inappropriate legislation that has come before us in the past 18 months. It is the most draconian and feudal Bill that this country has seen in decades, whereby the Revenue Commissioners will be brought in as a strong arm of the law to force people to pay who cannot pay. If they cannot pay by the end of the year, the Revenue will have the authority to take tax credits from people's wages. Those people will then have to decide whether to put food on the table, pay the ESB or gas bills, or pay transport costs to get to work. It is one of the most draconian pieces of legislation that I have seen.
This will be the most hated tax in the country and is being introduced by a Fine Gael-Labour Government. It will be much worse than the tax on children's shoes that was brought in decades ago. The household tax boycott was progressive in that it united rural and urban communities. That is the basis of people wanting to resist this property tax. It should not, and will not, be viewed - as other Deputies have said - as a tax on more affluent areas. This is a family home tax to bail out the bondholders and cannot be described otherwise.
This country probably has one of the highest rates of home ownership in Europe. In recent decades, however, housing policy has failed the people. They were encouraged to buy their own homes. Everything, including mortgage interest relief, was put in place to encourage people to buy homes. Now, however, when people need protection most, the Government comes after them for a family home tax.
When I return home, I do not say I am going to a property; I say I am going to my family home, to close the door behind me, light a fire and look after the family. This policy will fail and even if the Minister rams it through and takes the tax from people's wages in 2014, it will be resisted. People will be waiting for the Minister to come knocking on their doors, but I can tell him that the doors will be slammed in his face.
I am pleased to speak on Section 1 of the Bill but I am very disappointed that the Minister is guillotining this measure. When the Minister was on the opposition benches, he was constantly objecting to the guillotine. He made a big play that when he would be in Government it would not happen. We all understand that the guillotine has to be used occasionally but this is outrageous. Last Friday week, the Minister of State came here and summarily cancelled the Monday sitting. He then tried to say that it was due to lack of interest on this side of the House, which is a grossly unfair misrepresentation. I hate calling it the word "L-I-E" but it is misleading in the extreme. It is shameful.
If I were the Minister, I would be extremely worried. He is a long-serving Deputy in the House - a lot longer than myself - but there is not a sinner on the Government benches, not a solitary Member. Deputy Bannon has left but he was more interested in the big houses of the landed gentry. Some of them were burned in the troubled times to get rid of the Black and Tans, and they still have no roofs on them. He wants to put the roofs back on them and take the clothes off ordinary people. I cannot understand where he is coming from but he will find out when he goes back to Longford. When he goes up all the tree-lined avenues, he will meet all the fellows coming down against him.
This is not funny. How can the Minister introduce this measure? As Deputy Donnelly said, it gives the lie to Deputies who say they are voting for this because they can influence the Government from within. Deputy Michael McGrath will confirm that the late Brian Lenihan never sat in the House in those tough times without a few of us behind him in support. He was accessible and amenable to us, as well as accepting amendments from our own group. I do not know what has gone wrong with the Minister, Deputy Noonan. The Government's majority is the biggest problem because it thinks it can do what it likes and to hell with the ordinary people. It is like having Cromwell back again - to hell or to Connaught. As I said last week, it is too hell with the ordinary people, let them go to the soup kitchens or refuges for the homeless. That is what the Minister is going to do to people. We are talking about honest-to-goodness people who are going to get a deferral, if you would not mind.
I have been dealing with Revenue for 30 years, now going on for 31 years, and have yet to get a deferral from it. Moreover, if one gets a deferral, one will have the luxury of getting a 4% increase, in addition to the money one owes. That is a nice deferral. I would not like to deal with all my customers like that or rather, if that is the way I was treating them, I would like to do so. If one simply is unable to pay, one will have the pleasure of the imposition of an additional 8% penalty.
In what world is the Minister living? I note Deputy Durkan has arrived in the Chamber and am glad someone has come to support the Minister. The Deputy also has been in this House for a long time and as everyone here has the same mandate, I will not take that from any of the Members opposite. Despite Deputy Bannon's apparent view that I am a reject from some place else, I tell him I am a reject from nowhere and never will be, although if he continues in that fashion, he may be very soon. All Members of this House will be rejected if the Minister attempts to impose this tax on people who cannot pay. For example, he should consider those rural people who wished to build a house for themselves. They bought sites, hired planners and architects and paid their planning fees, development charges, stamp duty and legal fees. Moreover, they are attempting to pay back their mortgages as best they can and many of them are in huge negative equity. However, the Minister proposes to impose a property tax, a so-called local tax. Members know what will happen in this regard. The revenues will not be spent locally and even if they are, they will go first to the county managers, as well as the directors of services and all the senior officials, who will be paid anyway before any potholes will be filled or any services provided in rural Ireland.
I make the following point to the Minister and his officials, for whom I have no personal disrespect. Some of the mandarins in the Department of Finance, who are isolated and insulated, drew up this €500 million tax on the grounds that it is soft money which will easily be brought in. They thought they would not make a mess similar to the one they made last year with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, namely, big Phil the regressor. They decided they would not make a bags of it, like last year - Members should excuse the expression, but would give responsibility to Revenue, which does not have much to do at present because so many business people are out of business. Many Revenue Commissioners staff have nothing to do because they have so few people from whom to take money. In turn, this is because the business all have closed down as a result of the policies of the present Administration, its predecessor and several Governments before that. It also is because of the policies of the permanent Government, who do not understand what it is to be obliged to earn a day's pay, to pay rates, to pay taxes or to pay anything else because they are cushioned. I never saw this so clearly as when the then Minister, Brian Lenihan, God rest him, introduced the pension levy. However, he reversed it for a small cohort of people. Where was that cohort? It was the people who were in his office every day of the week and had access to him. Although they persuaded him to go back on it, yet the man on the shovel and the clerical officer were obliged to pay it. That was one of the slippery slopes the country went down and they are continuing-----
Deputy McGrath, you are moving away from the section.
I acknowledge I am well away from it but as a guillotine has been imposed, all bets are off as far as I am concerned.
No, we are not-----
The biggest bet on this one-----
I wish to leave time for my colleague.
I am nearly finished. Noiméid amháin má's é do thoil é.
I am glad that one or two more Government Members have arrived. The Minister should be aware that the public is watching this debate and with no disrespect to him, how does he intend to get blood out of a stone? They do not have it. I have customers who could not pay me and I never got it but simply was obliged to do without it. Consequently, the Government cannot get this money. As for giving responsibility to Revenue, I have dealt with it, it has many good people and I had a reasonable relationship with it over the years. However, if I could not pay, the sheriff was the man who got the task. While I could deal with Revenue, I could not deal with the sheriff. Is this what is going to happen? Will we have the sheriff and gardaí breaking down doors with their truncheons? Is this what the Minister intends to force on the people? This is what is staring Members in the face in the name of the troika. While the Minister may state the Government had no choices, it had dozens of choices. The Minister had the choice of doing what the vintners asked him to do, which was to tax the drink being sold at below cost in supermarkets, from which a billion euro could be brought in. The Minister also had the choice of taxing the very well-off and of means testing the children's allowance. While the Department of Social Protection will tell one it cannot do it, a sixth-class student with a computer and a friend could do it. We have a lethargic and inept Civil Service that states it cannot be done but that game is over. The Minister and the officials have been found out.
I appeal to the Minister not to bring in this Bill and not to guillotine it tonight because the Minister and I both know what will happen. The people cannot pay. They are a proud people who like to and have paid their way but they will not go back to the likes of the Peep o' Day Boys and the landlords burning the thatch in the houses. According to Deputy Bannon, they will not have roofs on those houses. He seeks to rebuild all the listed houses, such as the one Deputy James Reilly has, below in Moneygall. Perhaps the Minister will exempt them but will kill the little people. I ask the Minister to look into his conscience - I know he has one although I am unsure about some of his colleagues - and ask whether this is honest, right, fair or proper. I again ask the Minister to withdraw the guillotine and to have some semblance of respect for and understanding of the ordinary people of Ireland.
First, as all Members are aware, the Minister is a politician of great experience and ability who is highly regarded in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Moreover, I only say that because I mean it. Equally, however, his experience will lead him to know about the people Members on this side of the House are speaking about this evening. They are talking about young couples who are put to the pin of their collars to try to pay their mortgages. Last Saturday, in common with my colleagues in the Chamber, I held my clinics. I met people, whose names I recorded in my book, who have left their houses because they cannot afford to live in the houses on which they are paying a massive mortgage. This week, they asked me the reason Members were going to allow the Government to introduce a property tax on property in which they cannot afford to live. I met a husband, his wife and their little child, who told me how they had moved back into her parents' house because they could not afford the oil, electricity or cost of living in their home, having built it at the height of the boom. They now are being told they are obliged to pay a property tax on it. I am grateful to Deputy Donnelly for outlining a great lie in this House, that is, Members who come into the Chamber and blindly support the Government, while giving the impression they are better off working within the Government because they can do things from within. I have a message for such Members this evening and I hope they are watching on their monitors. The people of whom I am thinking have not delivered a wheelbarrow of tar to their constituencies and could not deliver a lottery grant to their constituencies.
Jackie Healy-Rae got plenty of tar.
The Minister is smiling because he knows what I am talking about. There are places - and this is no laughing matter - where people approached Government-supporting Deputies for a lottery grant. They would have as good a chance of going to Santa Claus, because those backbenchers will never deliver anything, even if they live forever on that side of the House.
We will get back to the Bill.
I am on the Bill, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I am here to speak up for those people and I wish to lay the lie about the better Government services. The inexperience of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, shows every now and then and he let the cat out of the bag when he suggested that if people want to have their roads tarred, they will be obliged to make a contribution themselves. This was a new one and had Deputy Varadkar the Minister's experience, he would not have come out with that last week, but would have waited until after Christmas. However, he will learn. If the Government puts forward the story that the property tax is being levied to bring in money to do work for people, while at the same time it tells them they will be obliged to pay on the double, people will not stand for that, because they simply do not have the money. It was a horrible experience a little while ago to listen to a person trying to defend the indefensible while talking about old houses and how they should be protected. I have as much respect for old houses as anyone but the houses in which I am interested are those with young families inside them tonight.
The houses in which I am interested are those where there are young children looking forward to Santa Claus. Moreover, while everyone knows Santa Claus will come to them, it will be no thanks to the Government.
Thank Santa Claus.
It might tax Santa Claus.
Those genuine young couples had a better time during the boom, when their expectations were that the work would continue for them. However, they now find the work is gone, they are left with a massive mortgage and they can see what the Government and the Deputies who support it are doing to them. Moreover, those Deputies should not think they will be able to hide behind the massive majority the Government enjoys because the people, thanks be to God, are extremely intelligent. All sorts of promises were made, to the effect that Fianna Fáil was the worst crowd in the world, its members did everything wrong and everything was done against the people. However, people now can perceive that those who were shouting and crowing from the Opposition side and who were calling for the chance whereby they would do everything right now have power. I am sick to death of hearing Members on the Government side of the House blaming Fianna Fáil every day. One would swear to God that Fianna Fáil was still in power because they still are blaming Fianna Fáil.
Their effects are still being felt.
Deputy Durkan, relax.
While they still are blaming Fianna Fáil, they have forgotten there has been the small matter of an election. They now have the biggest majority in the history of the State. What is the Government doing with it?
It is cutting the carer's-----
Deputy, as it now is 7.30 p.m. and we are moving on to Private Members' business, I ask you to report progress.
May I come back after Private Members' Business?
I ask the Deputy to report progress.
Yes, but this is to be continued.
On a point of order, every Deputy is entitled to have a say on this Bill. We are reporting progress and we are on section 1 of the Bill, which has 157 sections. We are half way through the debate. This is a farce.
The Minister can call it a bombardment but it is a farce that we will not even get past section 2 of the Bill or deal with the fact that the Revenue Commissioners will be given certain powers or the penalties. What is ongoing in this Chamber is a joke. I call on the Minister to be unafraid of debate. We can get through this section by section. The last Bill brought before the House by the Minister dealt with credit unions, and we commended him because of the way he listened to Opposition voices. He may not listen to Opposition voices with this Bill but ramming it through like this is a farce. There has been no progress and we have not even got to one amendment that has not been ruled out of order. Adequate time has not been given. It is a joke.