Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to open the debate on the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013, the primary purpose of which is to provide for a system of declaring vehicles off the road in advance for motor tax purposes. In other words, we are introducing a prospective system of making off-road declarations. This will close the loophole, whereby owners are able to declare retrospectively and unverifiably that a vehicle has not been in use on the public road. This evasion loophole has allowed many people to take a holiday from paying motor tax, which is unfair to the majority who pay their motor tax conscientiously. For their sake and in the interests of equity in the collection of this tax, the changes contained in the Bill are necessary. The substantive issue being tackled in the legislation is the abuse of the loophole by non-compliant taxpayers. The regime for those who pay their motor tax as intended will not be affected in any way.

Under the existing system, vehicles can be declared off the road retrospectively. The declaration is part of the motor tax renewal form. The owner's signature is witnessed by the Garda Síochána when the applicant next taxes the vehicle after the period for which the vehicle was off the road. Members of the Garda are not required to verify the veracity of the statement made by the owner. I do not doubt that many owners risk driving for a month or two without paying tax. If they are not stopped at a Garda checkpoint, they take the view that they can tell a lie about the car having been off the road and tax it from the start of that month. The current arrangements facilitate this. There is little prospect of getting non-compliant taxpayers to mend their ways as arrangements stand.

The use of such declarations is increasing, with a consequent loss to the local government fund which provides funding for local authorities and the roads programme of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. An analysis of Garda witnessed vehicle licence exemptions in the 12 months to the end of July 2012 showed that 539,000 such declarations were made during the period. The value of the declarations during that period was over €110 million, of which €22 million related to changes of vehicle ownership. The remaining €88 million related to exemptions not linked with change of vehicle ownership, with the majority of such declarations being made for periods of between one and three months. While some declarations are genuine, it is suspected that there is widespread abuse, potentially costing up to €55 million per annum. It is anticipated that implementation of the measures contained in the Bill could increase the income from motor tax by up to this amount, although some residual levels of evasion may remain.

It will be necessary to make provision for genuine periods of non-use of a vehicle, for example, in the cases of people who are ill or working overseas. It is proposed to introduce a system like the statutory off-road notification system used in the United Kingdom. A declaration will only be possible in advance for a specified period. The minimum period will be three months - the same as the minimum taxation period - and the maximum period will be 12 months. The declaration must be made in the month before tax is due to expire. This measure was recommended in the report of the local government efficiency review group. It is the largest single element, in value terms, of the report that falls to be delivered by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. It should be noted that the 2011 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General contained a chapter highlighting the level of motor tax evasion and recommending that a more robust system than the present one be put in place. The system provided for in the Bill conforms to an important element of the recommendations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I would like to go through some of the specific arrangements proposed. A declaration of non-use must be made in the month before motor tax or an earlier declaration of non-use expires. Owners of new or newly purchased vehicles will have ten days from the date of purchase to furnish a declaration if the vehicle is not to be used immediately. The vehicle can be declared off the road for any period, in whole months, of between three and 12 months. In the month before the declaration expires the owner will receive a renewal notice and can then either tax the vehicle or make a further declaration of non-use, again for a period of between three and 12 months. One can put the vehicle back on the road at any time during the non-use period by taxing it. In such circumstances the non-use declaration will be deemed to have been cancelled. A vehicle may be used during the period of a non-use declaration solely for the purposes of bringing it to or from a test centre, or bringing it to or from premises for repairs when an appointment has been made with an authorised tester after the repairs have been carried out for a subsequent test.

The Bill creates an offence of making a false or misleading non-use declaration with liability to a fine of up to €4,000 and-or six months imprisonment on summary conviction. This will be in addition to the existing penalties for non-display of a valid motor tax disc. While the Bill provides for an administration fee to be prescribed, we do not plan at this moment to prescribe a fee. The emphasis is on ensuring vehicle owners take the opportunity to regularise their affairs. There will be a three month transition period in which to do so. Following that period - the exact date will depend on the progress of the Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas - it will no longer be possible to make a retrospective declaration of non-use. The Minister intends to widely publicise the proposed changes in the coming months with a view to ensuring motorists are aware of their obligations in this regard.

The Bill also contains provision to make the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport a licensing authority.

Responsibility for the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, which administers motor tax online, was transferred to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2007, while the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government retains responsibility for motor tax policy. The provision has no impact on policy or procedure; it is merely to set out the role of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport more clearly. This change also has no bearing on the flow of income to and from the local government fund. Income from motor tax online will continue to accrue to the fund and will continue to be allocated between roads and general purpose grants in line with agreed protocols.

Finally, the Bill contains provision for transitional financial arrangements following the transfer of the driving licence function from licensing authorities to the Road Safety Authority, RSA. With the introduction of a plastic card driver licence from January 2013, a requirement of EU Directive 126/2006, responsibility for driver licensing transferred from local authorities to the RSA. The RSA has put arrangements in place for the issuing of a plastic card licence. It is also proceeding to centralise front and back office operations following a review of the driving licence service in 2010. However, as all elements of the new arrangements are not yet operational, the RSA has made arrangements that local authorities will continue to provide these services for a transitional period, expected to be until September 2013. During this time, all driver licence revenues will continue to be deposited in the local government fund. The portion of these revenues derived from the increase in driver licence fees that took effect from January will be paid from the fund to the RSA. The local government fund will retain the income from the fees that applied prior to the increase. The Bill also provides that the cost to local authorities in providing the driving licence service can be taken into account in deciding on allocations from the local government fund to the local authorities. When the new structures are fully established, all driver licence revenue will flow to the RSA.

I would like, at this point, to bring to the attention of the House the provisions of section 6, where it is provided that monthly arrears are to be charged at one tenth of the annual rate of motor tax. In the course of drafting the Bill, it emerged that the legal power to charge a penalty rate for arrears of motor tax was inadvertently removed from primary legislation some years ago. Notwithstanding this, provision continued to be made for the setting of rates of arrears in secondary legislation, most recently in 2008. Monthly arrears were set at one tenth of the annual rate, and payment of arrears at the current motor tax rate, that is, the historical rate not applied if the arrears period straddles an increase in motor tax.

In this regard, the Office of the Attorney General advised that the charging of an arrears rate over and above the tax due and the practice of charging at the current rate of arrears are ultra vires. Accordingly, once the legal position was clarified in late October, the Minister revised the arrears rate to one twelfth of the annual rate of motor tax per month. Analysis conducted at the time showed that, arising from charging at one tenth rather than one twelfth of the annual rate per month, there were 375,000 instances of overcharging, totalling €3.8 million in 2011, with the average payment just over €10 and 93% of payments under €20. Some 0.23% of payments were in excess of €100. The costs associated with directly repaying the excess tax charged via a cheque in the post would, in a large proportion of the cases, exceed the amount of money due to the individual.

With regard to the charging of arrears at the current rate of tax when the owner is paying back-tax, that is, charging the higher rate for the full arrears when the arrears owed straddle a change in the rates of tax, this is of significance for a number of months immediately after an increase in motor tax rates. Calculating arrears based on a split calculation creates difficulties in the NVDF, and it is not intended to provide for refunds of tax where arrears straddle a rate increase. In regard to the rate increase from 1 January 2013, it is estimated that the overcharging arising amounts to less than €10 in over 92% of cases and less than €20 in over 98% of cases. Very small numbers of cases exceed €50, with €217 being the maximum. In view of the difficulties in repaying a large volume of very small amounts in both scenarios, it is not intended to provide for this.

Given the need for a deterrent against late payment of tax, this Bill reinstates the monthly arrears rate at one tenth of the annual rate of duty at the current rate of motor tax. Arrears payable during the transition period will remain at one twelfth in order to encourage those in arrears to bring their tax up to date.

To conclude, I wish to stress that the new arrangements being proposed in this Bill will not impinge on compliant taxpayers in any way. This is an anti-evasion measure and is designed to close off a loophole being widely abused. I would also like to assure the House that the current arrangement for the one-month grace period is not affected in any respect by this legislation. Those who need to take their car off the road for any reason will be facilitated but they must notify the motor tax authorities in advance.

I wish to share time with other speakers.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill but, obviously, we have concerns about some aspects of it. The move towards an advance declaration will reduce the scope for tax evasion but must be properly enforced in order to be effective and have a positive impact on State revenues. Car owners, we believe, should not be unfairly charged for making an off-road declaration given they will not be using the roads with that vehicle. We would ask that consideration be given to this. I understand the legislation proposes not to charge for that initially but, over time, this might happen. If possible, I ask that it be taken out completely. No more than with any other legislation, it can be reviewed on an ongoing basis. Contrary to what I heard said in the media some weeks ago about sunset clauses and so forth, as legislators we are reviewing legislation on a daily basis, reforming bad legislation and bringing forward good legislation with the support of the majority in the House.

While efficiencies are welcome, the Government's transfer of the driver licence issuance to the RSA away from local authorities is, I am afraid, symptomatic of a broader agenda by Government to emasculate local government and strip it of its powers. Limiting the potential for motor tax evasion can bolster the State coffers. Motor tax raised €992 million for the local government fund in 2011 and this had declined from €1.045 billion, or by 5%, since 2009. In 2010, the Local Government Efficiency Review Group recommended that this off-the-road system be reformed. It stated that the cost of the system was €75 million per annum and the group believed it was open to some abuse. The last specific roadside survey of the extent of the problem was held in 2001, and this too found a 5% non-compliance rate. More recent figures based on vehicles passing through the M50 toll for 2010 and 2011 showed that approximately 7% did not have up-to-date discs. The evasion rate, therefore, seems to be about 5% to 7%, so there is potential to make savings in that regard.

We expect the Bill will have a positive environmental impact. Owners may now be more likely to go to legitimate waste operators when scrapping cars in order to obtain a certificate of destruction as, without this, owners may be liable for the off-the-road declaration fee indefinitely. However, the Minister of State on behalf of the Government must clarify what happens to those cars already disposed of which did not receive such certification.

Even if the issue of the current approach to off-the-road declarations is addressed by way of this legislation, prevention of continuing abuse is dependent on sufficient enforcement by the Garda. Industrial disputes with members of the GRA may undermine the impact of legislation like this Bill. The decision, for example, of GRA members to exercise their discretion and not issue fines for revenue-generating offences, including motor tax offences, undermines the capacity of the Bill to raise revenue.

Let us make no mistake about it. This is one of the consequences of the dangerous, adversarial and contemptuous approach taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality towards An Garda Siochána. In light of these issues, it has been suggested that consideration could be given to creating a similar system to that used for speed-checking cameras whereby the detection of motor tax evasion could be contracted out to a private firm. Alternatively, given that many of the country's tolls record the registration number of vehicles passing through them, it might be possible to use this information with appropriate legislative foundation.

Enforcement brought forward by legislation is the key to the successful implementation of this Bill. The prospect of charging for off-the-road certificates has been raised. It will be not included in the initial years, as was said earlier. It would be deeply unfair for drivers to be charged for non-operative vehicles that are not used on the roads. I ask the Minister to remove that from the proposals before the House.

The Bill also provides for transitional financial arrangements following the transfer of the driving licence function from licensing in local authorities to the Road Safety Authority, RSA. We know the RSA took over responsibility from local authorities in January 2013 following the introduction of the new plastic card driving licence. Pending finalisation of the transfer process, there is a transition process during which local authorities will continue to provide certain driving licence services. While my party supports the EU directive which standardises driving licences across the Continent for obvious conformity and security benefits, the removal of the role of local authorities reflects the broader emasculation of local government. We have seen in recent times the difficulties faced in SUSI with regard to third-level grants and the centralisation of the medical card function and now the prospect of the driving licence generates the same fears and anxieties in many people throughout the country and those of us who receive representations in that regard.

An example of the losses that may emanate can be found in Cork County Council which offered an on-the-spot licence renewal system that will now be lost with centralisation. It is important that we recognise the benefits that local flexibility can bring and not opt for knee-jerk centralisation. As I contemplate my reaction to this Bill and that specific area, I am conscious of the many forms of value for money audits that are taking place and the effort to rectify the financial situation involving looking microscopically at every facility and service. It might do much with regard to a balance sheet but it has not enhanced our society and rural sustainability. I am conscious of the loss of Garda stations in my own constituency in places like Ballinahown, Shannonbridge and Geashill and the potential loss of rural schools because the Minister has confirmed that the value-for-money audit in which his Department is engaged recommends four as the optimum number of teachers per school. No decision has been made in that regard but it is being brought to Cabinet and I would expect the Minister of State and his colleagues to win the day and not allow that policy to become a reality. There are 13 such schools in my constituency and county of Offaly that need the clarification required to allow them to continue to play the role they have played in times past. We have seen the reduction in social welfare hours and closures of social welfare offices and facilities.

The Deputy is straying from the Bill.

We are straying but are staying with the general thrust of Government policy contained in this Bill as it is in other facets of Government. Dental facilities have been lost, tourism offices have been closed and primary schools have been cancelled in different locations. I look forward to debating this weekend our efforts to regain the ground of rural sustainability and highlighting, as I am doing now, my belief and that of many of my constituents that the Government's disregarding of many facilities and services that are the lifeblood of rural communities must be reversed. It does not give me great pleasure to do so but it is something I must do as a rural Deputy. While the Minister of State might show his colleagues in Brussels and elsewhere the benefits this has given to the financial profit and loss account or balance sheet of Ireland Inc., it is having a grave effect on society as we know it. I apologise for straying.

I have two more recommendations in respect of this issue. Will the Minister provide a mechanism in this legislation whereby taxation could be paid by direct debit? I do not think there is any provision in legislation for that at present. Many people pay their motor tax periodically, be it on a half-year basis or every quarter. I spoke to someone this morning who told me it cost a further €60 or €70 to pay it periodically every quarter as opposed to the full year. Given today's climate and pressures and the difficulties many people face putting cars on the road, be it for insurance or tax, an opportunity has arisen through this legislation to make an insertion to allow people to do so and not be penalised for making periodic payments on a regular basis.

Tax evasion is a serious crime. It is essentially theft from the public purse and involves taking from the funds of the nation in order to further enrich oneself and denying funding for vital services without which no one could reasonably make a living or enjoy a decent standard of living. Of course, we face a significant problem in this State because the public purse has been opened up to the troika and the banks and billions of euro of the people's money has been squandered on bailouts of debt which were never the people's debt and never their responsibility. Quite reasonably, people now look at their tax bill, income tax, PRSI, VAT, motor tax and others taxes and wonder as they look at cuts in essential services in the social safety net where all this money is going and what benefit they get from these taxes. There is still great benefit from the taxes we pay but, understandably, the value for money people are getting is more in question and taxes are under more scrutiny by the public. That is why a desire to promote public confidence and to be fair must underpin any tax code. The Government has already got this wrong on many occasions, not least with the unfair property tax.

I do not believe the current motor tax code is fair. Sinn Féin believes it needs reform and we have put forward that point in debate on the recent motor tax Bill before the House. Today, we are discussing a move to close a gap which allows some people to avoid tax or to reclaim tax paid wrongfully. We support this general purpose although I do take issue with some sections of the Bill which I will elaborate on.

As highlighted in the excellent Bills digest compiled by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, based on a study from 2010 and 2011, evasion of motor tax is estimated as being approximately 5%. This represents an annual revenue loss of about €50 million at present. This figure of €50 million pales in comparison to the many billions of euro of untapped wealth in this State which the Government has refused to tackle even slightly, instead focusing on the poor and low earners. That does not mean people should be allowed to shirk their responsibility to pay for the roads and other services they use but I feel some perspective is required. The method of closing this gap by introducing a prospective instead of retrospective requirement would seem to make sense. This will end the practice of people claiming falsely that cars were off the road for a period when the car was not taxed.

It will also stop drivers falsely claiming that they have put their cars off the road and seeking refunds of motor tax. Of course, some will continue to attempt to avoid both the tax and the reach of the Garda Síochána but these steps will make that more difficult. The move away from requiring a garda witness for a declaration of non-use could also help to free up much-needed Garda resources, since the Government cuts have resulted in the closure of Garda stations. However, I have a problem with the removal of the one-month grace period for tax renewal. This is a fair system which allows some leeway for people to renew their car tax and allows time to deal with any problem that may arise in the processing of renewals. No system is perfect and errors can happen at any point.

If I may be helpful to the Deputy, that provision is not in the Bill.

That is fair enough. I was just making the point.

No system is perfect and errors can happen at any point. It would be preferable if people could have their new tax discs ready to go as soon as the old ones expire but this is not always so easy for people. The one-month grace period offers nothing more than a little space to deal with the process. Most people who use the month's grace renew their tax; they do not declare any period of non-use and they pay their way just like everybody else. In my view, keeping the month's grace and introducing the other measures will make a crackdown on motor tax evasion much easier for gardaí, who will be able to focus on those who are unquestionably avoiding tax. The month's grace and tax evasion are two completely different issues.

There is also the issue of a charge being applied for declaring that a vehicle is off the road. Surely if road tax has been paid for the vehicle in the past then that road tax should easily cover the cost of declaring the vehicle off the road. Is it right to charge someone for making a declaration that he or she is not liable for tax? Many people in rented houses across the State who buy stamps and envelopes in order to inform their local authorities that they are not liable for the home tax might be surprised if the Government took that attitude. It is disappointing that the Government believes it can sneak in the charge by not putting it in place until after the initial stages of reform. This is underhanded and very disrespectful of the people who have a right to be angry at this proposed charge. The Government needs to spend less time dreaming up hoodwink tactics.

I welcome the move to ring-fence motor tax money for the local government fund. The Finance Bill set aside €150 million of motor tax revenue for debt payment. This goes back to my earlier point about public confidence in the value for money of tax payments. That is not the purpose of the local government fund. I condemn this practice. I call on the Minister to ensure that motor tax moneys will remain in the fund. It should not be used to pay off the troika, the European banks or bondholders.

The other issue is that of consistency. I welcome the notion that money raised from the new offences of motor tax evasion will be ring-fenced for the fund. That is a good move. Sinn Féin proposed something similar - that money collected by the CAB should be used to help fund local drugs task forces and other community responses. This proposal was rejected because the funding was not sustainable. That was true, but it was not a legitimate reason for rejecting the plan. The money raised from these offences is also unsustainable, as the hope is that new regulations will sufficiently deter evasion and fines will become less common. That was not a sufficient excuse to block Sinn Féin's proposal on the CAB. I am pleased that at least the Government sees our point in this regard.

The most important point is that much of this will have no significant impact if not properly resourced. The Garda Síochána has been cut, left, right and centre. Garda stations have been closed and station opening hours have been cut across the State. The Garda Síochána is stretched thin and the force is being asked to do more and more. Some provisions in the Bill will aid the more important work of the Garda Síochána but such hard work and dedication requires the Garda Síochána to be adequately funded and staffed.

I note that the number of people declaring cars to be off the road has increased by 40% since 2008. That figure relates to the period before the more recent rises in motor tax. The last budget saw an increase of 25% while a recent study by the AA found 60% of motorists struggling to keep cars on the road. If maintaining a car becomes more and more expensive, tax evasion will likely increase. A balance must be struck between raising revenue and keeping people on the road.

I question the benefit of making the Minister a licensing authority and I ask the Minister of State to explain the purpose of this provision. In my view, officials should be above reproach. This could be used by people as a means to approach or to influence the Minister. I reiterate my point about the RSA taking over licensing responsibilities from the local authorities. The local authority licensing system has been in place for years. It is a bad move to take powers away from local authorities. I know this has already been enacted but I really believe it has been a mistake.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Thomas Pringle.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Low- and middle-income families are punch-drunk from austerity, cuts to services, increased taxes and increased excise duties, and motorists are no exception. I wish to make a plea for hard-pressed motorists. The Government should take the opportunity presented by this Bill to alleviate the pressure on these hard-pressed motorists by, as a minimum, reducing the quarterly and half-yearly motor tax rates on vehicles by bringing the rates into line with the annual rate. The Government should also reduce fuel tax, maintain the one-month grace period for payment and remove the administration fee provided for in this Bill.

In the towns and villages outside the big cities and in rural areas, a car is an absolute necessity and not a luxury. In many cases, particularly in rural Ireland, a family will need two cars as a necessity and not as a luxury. I came across an individual last week who is very hard-pressed and is under pressure with his mortgage. He lives in a rural area in County Tipperary. His wife works part-time in Limerick. She needs a car to get to work. He needs a car because he takes the children to school, which is seven miles from their home. The nearest pick-up point for the school bus is two miles away. Many people in rural Ireland face a similar situation. Public transport is not adequate outside the main cities; in fact, there is little or no public transport outside the big cities. In many cases, people need cars to travel to work and for normal activities such as taking children to school, doing the shopping and attending religious services. The financial pressure of running a car is a reality for many of these families. I refer to the shameful decision by the HSE to reduce the limit on travel-to-work expenses for those with medical cards. The first €50 is excluded from travel-to-work expenses. This is another attack on hard-pressed motorists, who are also workers travelling to work. I ask the Minister of State to advise his colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to ask the HSE to reverse that change immediately.

I mentioned already the quarterly and half-yearly payments many motorists are forced to make, which costs them significantly more than if they were in a position to pay for motor tax annually. With contemporary information technology, there is no reason to have a higher rate for quarterly or half-yearly payments. Over 100,000 more tax discs were issued in 2012 than in 2010. Half-yearly disc issues fell from 742,000 to 682,000, while annual disc issues fell significantly also. In spite of the fact that 13,000 fewer cars were on the road in 2012, the tax take was higher - up to €1.05 billion. That is the result of a 7.5% increase in motor tax in the 2011 budget and a further increase of up to 20% in the 2012 budget. This is something the Government should address immediately through this Bill.

The Automobile Association has found that the number of breakdowns has significantly increased as a result of motorists' having to scrimp and save on maintenance and servicing costs. Fuel is a huge element of the cost of motoring, placing particular pressure on the hundreds of thousands who must use their cars to travel to work. I came across a case recently in which a gentleman had to take holidays as he did not have the money to put petrol in his car to transport him to work. It is an issue the Government must examine. The figures show that 57% of the cost of fuel is tax and excise. The typical Irish motorist uses some 1,800 litres of fuel - or 150 litres per month - to travel approximately 12,000 miles per year. This represents a cost of €243 per month on fuel alone. Of that, €138.50 is tax. It is an issue that should be addressed. We must remember that this is an island economy and that public transport is almost non-existent outside the larger cities. Cars are essential to people to do their daily business and to go to work. Some leeway should be given to motorists who are under great financial pressure as a result of austerity.

The Bill provides for the introduction of an administration fee, though not immediately. It should be removed, if only as a gesture of goodwill to motorists. The transfer of responsibility for driving licenses to the RSA takes further services away from local authorities. A particular difficulty that arises, about which every Member has been contacted, is the fact that a single provider will be used to provide photographs for the new licence. This measure will have serious repercussions for retailers nationally and will lead to job losses. It is an issue the Minister should take the opportunity to remedy in the Bill. Photographs from the normal, reputable retailers should be permissible.

As this is a road fund Bill, I raise the matter of the condition of our road network, particularly county roads. Many roads are in poor condition. Roads funding for local authorities has been reduced considerably over the last number of years, including this year. Anybody driving county roads nationally knows about the number of potholes and the problem of undermining of surfaces, particularly due to the bad weather of the last 12 months. The roads must be attended to urgently. If they are not, some of them will disintegrate, as others have already done. The Minister should make additional moneys available to local authorities to provide for remedial works to roads. I think of roads in Slieveardagh and west and south Tipperary which are in very bad or dangerous condition and require urgent maintenance and repair.

When he introduced the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licenses) Bill 2013, the Minister confirmed that €46.5 million of motor tax income was transferred from the local government fund to the Exchequer in 2012. In 2013, up to €150 million will be transferred. The Minister says these are necessary measures to reduce the national debt. The transfer is disgraceful. The Minister should take the opportunity presented by the Bill before the House to refund the €196 million immediately to the local government fund. The money is urgently required by local authorities to repair and maintain roads across the country.

In speaking on the Bill, I make a plea for hard-pressed motorists. I ask that various amendments be brought forward to ensure that they are not further pressurised on foot of the recession. I ask that the county roads be looked after and that moneys transferred from the local government fund be returned and made available to local authorities for road maintenance.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this evening's debate on the Bill. As Deputy Healy has outlined, for most people living outside the major urban centres, a car is an essential mode of transport. It is not a luxury or something people can afford to do without. Every rural Deputy knows the public transport system is non-existent. One needs a car for day-to-day living, to go to work and to provide any kind of social life for one's family. While the changes proposed in the Bill are about reducing tax evasion, we must look beyond the staggering €55 million it will raise in extra motor taxes by removing the retrospective declaration provision.

It is important to examine why people avail of the system. The amount of retrospective declarations increased by 40% since 2008. It is no coincidence when we see that the bank guarantee took place in 2008, leading to the bailout and the recession. Some motorists availing of the retrospective declarations have used it as a system of avoiding tax but many do so because they cannot afford to tax a car to keep it on the road. These people are not immune from the rest of the recessionary impact, tax increases, cuts in income and cuts in wages and employment. This will have a severe impact on people. It will affect how people can keep transport for themselves and their families and how people can maintain themselves in employment. Combining this point with the increases that have taken place over the past two budgets in respect of car tax, it amounts to a significant hit for people. The increase I mentioned, with people retrospectively declaring, was combined with increases in taxation. We must be conscious of this point in legislation and of the difficulties people are going through.

This is highlighted in media reports on the major increase in the number of people taxing their cars for three months. They cannot afford to tax cars for one year anymore even though, over the course of the year, it costs significantly more. I echo the calls made by other Deputies for the Minister to examine this point and level out the differences between taxing a car for three months and 12 months. We will no doubt hear that the difference is due to the extra administrative burden on the taxing authorities but there must be some recognition of the fact that people cannot afford to tax cars for 12 months. That is why the number of people opting for three months has increased so significantly over the past year.

It is interesting that the Bill recognises that the extra money will go to the local government fund. It is a sad sign of the times that the Government must state that in the Bill to ensure it does. It is a moot point because the Government has already provided for taking €150 million out of the local government fund and returning it to the Exchequer to service the national debt at the behest of the troika. It is only a matter of moving it from car tax to the local government fund and back out so it does not make much difference. The Government can raise this funding, which is so badly needed by local authorities, to maintain our roads across the State but it uses it to write down debt. In the context of the national debt we must service, €150 million is not significant but it would be significant in grants and funds to local authorities to maintain our roads.

I am concerned by section 7 of the Bill, which provides for a fee for the off-the-road declaration. The fee will not be implemented immediately but it should not be implemented at all. If people have taken a vehicle off the road, they should not be charged for the luxury. This is particularly the case when the intention of the Bill is to reduce evasion. Introducing the fee may encourage people to chance their arms and see if they can get away with evading the tax. It should not be subject to a fee and if people are putting a vehicle off the road they should have their declaration submitted without any cost.

The removal of the car tax and vehicle licensing function from local authorities is a retrograde step. Moving it to a single authority makes it seem as if we are centralising everything and withdrawing from local services and access to local services enjoyed in the State for many years. Combined with the abolition of town councils, the withdrawal of services from local authorities, the establishment of Irish Water and the vehicle licensing authority, this amounts to withdrawing further services from local authorities. It is a retrograde step. I call on the Minister not to introduce the fee outlined in section 7 for the off-the-road declaration as the Bill moves through the House.

I propose to share time with Deputies Kyne, Conlan, and Farrell. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013. It is another important reforming item of legislation from the Government and makes an important contribution to our environmental obligations as a country as well as addressing a significant loss to our national finances. The false declaration of motor vehicles as being off the road is known to be rife in Ireland. While there can be legitimate situations, the making of such a declaration is not verified and thus open to abuse. Almost €1 billion is paid into the local government fund each year from motor tax. This is an important and much needed contribution to our road network. In many parts of County Meath, more money is needed just for pothole filling. Anyone who canvassed during the Meath East by-election witnessed that point. They will agree we need to find more money to fill potholes and build roads. I am sure it does not apply just to Meath but it is a prime example of an area with heavy traffic and we need to address the situation. We need to collect money that belongs to this country.

The motor tax evasion rate is estimated to be in the region of 5% annually. With a total tax take of €1 billion, the evasion is worth €50 million in cash terms. However, the calculation is based on the last major roadside survey, conducted in 2001, so the figure could be higher. One of the areas where this Government and its predecessors over the past ten years can take some credit and satisfaction for using such resources is in the significant progress in road safety. Every life lost is one too many but we are a long way to from the daily carnage that the early 2000s represented for far too many families and local communities.

This has been achieved through a range of measures that are not always popular but certainly work, including penalty points, speed checks, NCT testing, tougher licensing laws, road improvements and tougher drink driving laws. The role of our new motorway network and other road improvements cannot be discounted either. The momentum on these important initiatives must be maintained. The Road Safety Authority tells us the number of deaths on Irish roads in 2011 was 186, down 26 on 2010 figures and 53 on 2009 figures. These figures represent families who still have dads and mums, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters. However, more needs to be done to address the fact that 70% of road deaths are males. One third of the people who die on our roads are under 24, a huge waste of young talent and potential. Rush hour, between 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Fridays, which herald the start of the weekend, are statistically the most dangerous times for fatalities.

I would like to see savings from this Bill directed towards road safety measures at our schools. While I mentioned that we want the money for potholes, we also need to target new road safety initiatives. Schools arise as an example where there are gaps in our funding. I would like to use this occasion to direct the attention of the Minister to the case of Rathmore national school as an example of one that needs money for specific road safety measures. Rathmore national school is situated on a national route, the N51 from Navan to Athboy. The school needs additional safety measures to slow down traffic. Parents agree this must be done. The school is situated in the countryside and, although relatively isolated along the N51, this makes its situation more dangerous as motorists feel they can maintain their speed. The school serves a large hinterland, drawing pupils from within the radius of Cortown to Kilbride, Rathcairn to Athboy. This issue has been highlighted over the years by members of Government, the Garda Síochána, the county council, the NRA and the NTA. There has been a relatively positive response by agencies to the problem of speeding at the school. The Garda Síochána has increased the number of speed checks and extra signage has been put up. These measures have had some results but motorists persist in speeding. Lorries and cars do not realise there is a school there. It has become clear that a change in policy of how NTA funding can be used in such instances is needed. Funding is needed for proper pedestrian crossings, signage and speed limit checks to allow pupils and parents be safer outside their schools along national routes in rural areas. Currently, NTA funding can only be given to link schools to towns, villages and housing estates with properly resourced safe pedestrian crossings and paths.

This simple measure would allow huge progress for schools like Rathmore national school. These schools are located on national routes throughout the country and one sees them in Mayo, Tipperary and elsewhere. They do not fit into the right box to get funding to solve a problem. In some cases, it is for speed limit checks, more signs or proper car parking. It is a sad irony that a school's location on a major national artery is a disability to it accessing important safety measures but that seems to the be case in this situation.

I urge the Minister to pursue this particular matter and I am happy to supply him with any further information from schools like Rathmore national school. With the money we will collect as a result of this Bill, we could target another area and solve another problem, which does not fit it any box currently.

It goes without saying that fairness should be at the heart of everything we do in the national Parliament and the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013 will bring fairness to a situation of which most people are aware. The Bill will ensure fairness for those responsible citizens who pay their motor tax by closing a loophole which has enabled a minority to evade their obligations under the law. It is simply unfair that those citizens who do not pay their motor tax or who use the retrospective clause enjoy the use of the road network at the expense of those who pay.

It is estimated that the Exchequer is losing up to €50 million each year, and we must remember this is €50 million less to spend on the maintenance and upkeep of our roads. Figures compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor demonstrate that 1.1 million off the road exemption gaps were declared between 2008 and 2011. This represents a 40% increase and a total loss of €226 million for the State. A significant proportion of the exemptions were of course legitimate and sought by honest and genuine motorists but it is also likely that a significant percentage were sought for the sole purpose of evasion of this tax. Unfortunately, there appears to be some difficulty in determining the exact number of motor tax evasions. A constituent who recently contacted my office on the issue of motor tax quite rightly said technology exists which could play a greater role in enforcement. For example, technology at toll booths could actively assist the Garda in apprehending those who are evading their tax obligations.

In researching this topic, it is noteworthy that many of the changes proposed actually arise from the deliberations of the local government efficiency review group. This group comprised experts from the public and private sectors and carefully reviewed the array of local government areas. It is unfair to say the provisions of this Bill are not based on research and examination or represent a knee-jerk reaction.

However, concerns have been raised with me regarding a number of sections. For example, section 7(13) and (14) empower the Minister to prescribe a fee to accompany an unused declaration. I contend that in light of the fact we are already closing a loophole which would prevent tax evasion, we do not impose a charge. I was glad to hear the Minister of State say that the Government does not propose to introduce a fee at this time. Section 14 should be augmented with a new category of fee waivers for vintage vehicles. We must recognise the fundamental difference between cars used daily for all sorts of purposes and those vintage cars kept by enthusiast or hobbyists for recreational or past-time reasons. We must also realise a car originating from as recently as the 1980s can be considered vintage and may be kept, but not used frequently, by citizens. For example, it could be used in the summer months but locked away in storage during the winter months. Some individuals raised this issue in light of this Bill. I appreciate that under the other Acts, a car over 30 years old is classed as vintage but there are cars younger than that which would be liable for full tax if declared for the full year.

Several State agencies and Departments are involved in the implementation of the motor tax system, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Revenue Commissioners. It is very welcome that section 5 makes provision for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to operate the licensing authority but we should go further and transfer the responsibilities for motor tax policy, currently under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It would make sense to do this and it would improve the motor tax system.

Some in this House have sought to criticise the transfer of the driving licence function to the Road Safety Authority from the county councils as proof of some campaign against local government. This is not true. Transferring the driving licence function is rooted in road safety. It recognises that on passing a test, a person will be awarded a driving licence for life, so it makes sense that the Road Safety Authority would be central to the driving licence process. Road safety must central from the start of this Bill providing financial arrangements for the transfer from the local authorities to the Road Safety Authority. Nobody likes to pay tax but those who pay want to ensure and need to know that everyone who is liable to pay tax does so and this Bill ensures that in the context of road tax.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill which is estimated will save taxpayers €55 million in one year. The practice of motorists declaring that their vehicles were off the road for a period of time, filling in the relevant form, going to the Garda station and getting it stamped and proceeding to the local motor tax office has been well known for many years and has been used by people whose vehicles were genuinely off the road. An example is a civil servant or semi-State worker who took up an offer outside the State for a period of time, who parked his or her vehicle and returned to find the tax was out of date and legitimately went through the process of declaration that his or her car was off the road. Other examples include persons with illnesses for a period of time or persons acquiring a company vehicle or van for a period of time to do specialised work. It is important to mention that under this Bill, all the cases I mentioned will continue to be able to do the same if they declare their circumstances in advance. I welcome the Minister's due recognition in the Bill of these circumstances.

What the Bill is designed to do is to catch the people who set out to avoid their obligation to pay motor tax on their vehicles. It is impossible to believe that up to €55 million in tax is written off genuinely. There are people who drive around for up to 12 months or longer and suddenly get a scare when they come across a checkpoint. They then go to regularise their situation. They decide to fill in the declaration falsely by ignoring the non-tax period and just paying for the next six-month to 12-month period. Why should compliant citizens subsidise others? It is not fair and the Minister has an obligation to act to tighten up the regulations.

Once the Bill is enacted, a non-use declaration can be made in advance of the vehicle being taken off the road for a period of between three to 12 calendar months. A declaration can be made up to one month in advance of the expiry of a motor tax disc or a previous declaration of non-use while purchasers of new and second-hand vehicles will have ten days from the date of registration or change of ownership to make a declaration. These are all very practical ways of doing business and I welcome the Minister's well thought out proposals in the Bill.

I suggest that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government engages with representatives of the motor industry so that vehicles which are traded in or sold in part exchange to dealers are dealt with through this Bill. Some vehicles could technically be in a motor dealer's yard for up to nine months, unsold. Will vehicles traded by a customer have to file a non-use declaration in advance of the vehicle being taken off the road? When the timeframe is not known, what is the procedure? I urge the Minister to provide clarifications in this regard.

Since 2008 car tax has been aligned to CO2 emissions rather than the cc of the engine which has resulted in massive savings for the motorist. This was introduced by a former Minister, John Gormley. Since then car manufacturers have, through innovation and technology, further reduced the CO2 emissions of many engines, resulting in leaner fuel consumption, cleaner air and reduced costs in terms of car purchase costs, fuel and motor tax.

The Society of the Irish Motor Industry has argued against any subsequent motor tax rises, but it is worth noting that in 2008 the motor tax on an average 2-litre diesel-engine car was over €650. The new tax, based on bands in the CO2, category resulted in these same vehicles paying €150 and, in some cases, just over €100. This represented a reduction of 77% in the cost of taxing such a vehicle. I remind Members again of the start of the economic collapse in 2008. While a reduction in motor tax is welcome to encourage people to drive cars with lower emissions, effecting a reduction in the order of 77% was over-generous and resulted in the fund nose-diving, further adding to the reduction in general tax revenue in Ireland when we most needed it.

The average motor tax charge is now in the region of €250. As the years pass, the pre-2008 high-tax vehicles will slowly disappear so that taxing one's motor car will become more affordable than before when the average premium was in the region of €500. I urge the Minister to bear this in mind to ensure we will not go back to those days when simple, basic small vehicles were taxed beyond the capacity to pay of the ordinary motorist.

I do not suggest that the larger fuel-thirsty vehicles should avoid heavy duties but I feel tax on average-sized diesel vehicles driven by the average person should not rise very much over the present level. We have seen increases since 2008 in the order of 45%. Keeping the lower CO2 tax bands at reasonable levels will reduce motor tax avoidance in accordance with the Minister's ambition alongside closing off the loophole resulting in the misuse of the non-use declaration form. I commend this Bill to the House.

As stated on numerous occasions, this legislation will close the loophole in our motor taxation system that is costing the taxpayer in excess of €50 million per annum. It will ensure a more fair and transparent system for road users.

The evidence that we have been privy to on this issue demonstrates very clearly that there is a widespread problem with false off-the-road declarations being made by car owners in order to avoid paying motor tax. It is that simple. I welcome any Bill that identifies and targets a gap that allows abuse at the expense of the vast majority of taxpayers. The forthcoming declaration system for cars that are off the road for genuine purposes will put a stop to false declarations and should be welcomed by all tax-complaint individuals as a means of safeguarding tax revenue in a clear and transparent manner.

The local government efficiency review group estimated in 2010 that the Exchequer loses €75 million per year as a direct result of motor tax evasion and particularly the abuse of the off-the-road system. Half a million cars were off the road in 2012. Only 20%, however, of these cases involved a change of ownership, which leaves a particularly high number of cars that are exempt or off the road for unidentifiable reasons. For the purpose of taxation, this is not good enough. The taxpayer is entitled to a much higher rate of vigilance and a much higher standard, particularly when we ask so many to contribute more in these straitened times.

According to various studies that have taken place since 2001, there seems to be a consistent rate of non-compliance of 5%. This statistic is from one of the most recent roadside studies I have been able to find. Since 2001, there have been more modern means of measuring tax compliance, which I very much welcome. These include the scanning of vehicles on toll roads, which revealed a rate of non-compliance of 7% in 2010. When adjusted, this resulted in the aforementioned rate of 5%. I am taking into account that motor tax accounts for almost €1 billion in revenue. A 5% rate of tax evasion is a serious indictment of the previous Government and its waste over so many years. We have now taken responsibility for the running of this State. This legislation will deal with the loophole I outlined.

If we are to reform our motor tax system and close gaping loopholes, we cannot bury our head in the sand and ignore the enforcement issue. Despite An Garda Síochána having the best will in the world, it is just unrealistic to suggest that we have sufficient manpower or resources to deliver maximum compliance in this area. This legislation creates an opportunity for us to really consider and debate the modernisation of how we enforce legislation in general. We have the technology and database to transform radically how we monitor and enforce the motor tax system. We need to examine technology available to us in our daily lives in order to succeed while also reducing pressure on our front-line services, such as that of An Garda. I acknowledge the Department's success to date in establishing its online payments system, and I welcome its recent initiative to invoice users electronically. These are good measures that allow for easier payments, easier communication and, crucially, they lower the costs of printing, posting and manpower to process payments, for example.

In regard to enforcement, it is best practice to look to our neighbours in the United Kingdom who introduced similar legislation about three years ago. They have established a system based on enforcement whereby all registered vehicles are recorded online. Tax renewal status is displayed. This would be very useful in Ireland. This is a simple and most efficient way of identifying tax evaders. Users who have not paid to date and have not declared their vehicles to be off the road may be pursued appropriately by desk officials rather than relying on Garda resources.

Why should we stop with motor tax? We have technology to hand to implement what is proposed across all legislation surrounding vehicle laws, including in respect of NCT compliance and even insurance. Pretty much every smartphone on the market has a barcode reader or scanner which allows one to scan the tax information in a car window to produce up-to-date information as to its tax status and NCT status, and even insurance status, given the information-sharing arrangement the State now has with the insurance companies.

I am delighted the Acting Chairman, Deputy Tom Hayes, is in the Chair to give me an easy run when I am speaking. He is a fellow Tipperary man. It will not be very hard at all and I will try to be as compliant as possible seeing that we have present the more polite Minister in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I have said this to him personally and privately. In saying that, I am not saying anything bad about the Minister, Big Phil. I refer to the more civil of the two. When there is trouble, the Minister of State is the one who will be on the front line. He looks after the House when the Minister is missing.

I have many concerns about this Bill. Having listened to some of the previous speakers, I wish we were living in a really nice world in which everything was rosy and dandy, in which there were no problems at all in the country, and in which the economy was booming. However, every Bill before us is anti-business, anti-work and anti-Ireland. That is a fact. I am not saying this for the sake of it; I am saying it because I know it.

I must declare I have a number of vans. Deputy Tom Hayes will know this. He tried to count them but never got around to it. It is not that he is not able to count or anything like that. He just could not count them as they were moving. They are no longer moving as they are stopped since the last election. I have three or four vehicles since the election in 2011. It is my tough luck if I have to tax them. They will be due for tax unless I put hens into them. The vehicles are parked up and off the road. I hope they will be fit to start and go on the road the next time we need them. Deputy Hayes will have a bigger area of the county to travel. I am declaring my interest. I am in business also and have a number of work vehicles.

Let us examine the matter from the perspective of farm contractors, plant hire companies and builders. Most of the builders we know had a hole in their pants 20 years ago and had nothing. Fair dues to them: they got a bit of work, learned their trades and bought a jeep, little trailer, mini-digger or other equipment such as a ride-on dumper or Loadall. Now the bottom has fallen out of the market. They are scraping a living and trying to pay their bills. They cannot get a shilling in unemployment benefit or other benefits. Are they now to be expected to tax all the machines in their yards? They cannot sell them as there is no market for them.

They live in hope that as promised by the Government the rising tide will lift all boats. As far as I can see, the tide is continually out, the boats are sinking lower and no one seems to care a damn. All this Government is doing is introducing legislation to penalise the people of Ireland and put them into penury.

The assumption of many previous speakers, including the Minister of State, is that half the people of this country are crooks and half of all members of the Garda Síochána are as bad, which is outrageous. I have often had forms signed by the Garda Síochána. I expect that the vast majority of people seeking to have forms signed are honest. It is up to the garda to verify if a declaration is true. That is an awful implication. I know this Government, particularly the Minister for Justice and Equality, is anti-gardaí. The implication in the Minister of State's speech that gardaí willy nilly sign forms for people seeking to evade paying their taxes is outrageous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the real world, if a vehicle or machine breaks down or is unsuitable for a job the owner has to hire another one. I could give a thousand examples. Vehicles used as taxis and parked on the side of the road in housing states when not in use are often vandalised and burned out at night, leaving people to seek replacements for them the following morning. That is but one reason a vehicle could be off the road. We are now to anticipate when a vehicle will be off the road. We are to anticipate if the engine is going to break down and that a wheel bearing might fall off. We are to be geniuses now.

Reference was made earlier to civil servants having to go abroad for work. What about the former construction workers who have gone abroad in search of work and have left their wives, families, homes and cars behind and only get home two or three times a year? They cannot sell their vehicles either. If they owed money on them the banks, assisted by the State agencies, will have taken them, leaving them high and dry. This Government, like the previous one, believes we are all criminals. It also believes we can all pay our taxes online and that there is broadband connectivity in rural parts of Kerry and South Tipperary. If my recollection is correct either the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, or the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, last week announced further roll-out of broadband. To be honest, I, too, have made announcements in regard to the roll-out of broadband. It was all a waste of time. One might as well have rolled toilet paper down the street because despite the promises of broadband for rural areas nothing has happened. I believed the statements made by all of the agencies on the roll out of broadband. The assumption has also been made that everyone in this country, whether 20, 60, 70, 80 or 90 years of age, is computer literate. That is not the case. A person might use the dial-up facility for purposes other than going online. It is a myth that everybody can pay their motor tax online. It may be true of the Dublin 4 set, the whizz kids and so on who have smart phones etc. As far as I am concerned, this is gone beyond a joke.

The Minister of State mentioned in his speech that for a long time people have been overcharged on arrears and that repaying that money would be too complex a process. Have we gotten so arrogant that we can refuse to repay moneys owed to people because it would cost too much to do so? The Government stole €1.1 million of the funds provided for the children's referendum. That is what the Supreme Court said, not me. That was the view of the five judges in the Supreme Court yet nothing has been done about it. I asked again this morning for a debate on the matter.

The Deputy must confine his remarks to the Bill.

I am. I am pointing out that when one gets away with robbing millions it is easy to rob thousands from people. The figures are in the Minister of State's speech. This is unbelievable. Surely if it is too costly to post cheques to people they could be given it in cash over the counter. When people tried to pay their household charge with cash it was refused. The Government and agencies refused to cash payments in respect of the household charge and have now decided it would be too complex and costly to repay people in respect of overcharges. I have heard it all now. These are the Minister of State's words, not mine. The Minister of State's speech states that analysis conducted at the time showed that, arising from charging at one tenth rather than one twelfth of the annual rate per month, there were 375,000 instances of overcharging. The banks did it and got away with it. Local authorities are now admitting that they did and got away with it. I am not blaming the council officials or staff who were only doing what they were told. There were more than 375,000 instances of overcharging, which is only 125,000 short of half a million, totalling €3.8 million. One would think it was only chaff out of the back of a combine. In 2011, people were overcharged by €3.8 million, which is hard earned money on which they had already paid tax. It is an outrage. The average payment was just over €10, 93% of payments were under €20, 0.3% of payments were in excess of €100 and the cost associated with directly repaying the excess tax charged via a cheque in the post would, in a large proportion of cases, exceed the amount of money due to the individual. Does a cheque and a stamp cost more than €10, €20 or €100? Who is the Government codding? Is official Government so arrogant now that it believes people are fools and amadáns and that we will accept and support this? This is outrageous. It is not surprising we are accepting a diktat from Europe.

The Minister of State referred to the new plastic card licence. I renewed my licence last September. Am I correct that Ireland is the first country in Europe to introduce such a card? I acknowledge that the Road Safety Authority has done a great number of things. Why, regardless of what it is doing, does it have to roll out Gay Byrne? I do not know what we will do when he is gone to his eternal reward. Just because he invested stupidly twice does not mean we should be paying him to appear continually on RTE and on behalf of the Road Safety Authority. As I have said thousands of times previously, my children do not know who Gay Byrne is. If we want to get the road safety message out to young drivers on our roads we should be using sports and music people to do so, not Gay Byrne. While he was a good presenter in his time he should be off enjoying the pension given to him by RTE rather than appearing on this, that and the other programme, in particular on behalf of the Road Safety Authority. Gay Byrne has always had little respect for rural Ireland and its people. It was all very fine for him to travel on his Harley Davidson or by taxi from the Hill of Howth to RTE. The same applies to the infamous Noel Brett and former Minister, Noel Dempsey, the champion of road safety who ran away like a scalded cat having caused great affray. He abolished the dual mandate and, as I call it, "bittered" local government because what he did caused a sour taste. However, he is gone.

The Minister of State's speech reads:

In relation to the charging of arrears at the current rate of tax when the owner is paying back-tax, i.e. charging the higher rate for the full arrears when the arrears owed straddle a change in the rates of tax, this is of significance for a number of months immediately after an increase in motor tax rates. Calculating arrears based on a split calculation creates difficulties in the NVDF, and it is not intended to provide for refunds of tax where arrears straddle a rate increase.

If I were to go into a pub tonight and be charged €7 for a pint I would kick up a fuss and refuse to pay it. This Government is demanding money from people and refusing to repay overcharges because the process of doing so is too difficult. The Gestapo did not do this in its day. This is grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented, GUBU.

The Minister of State's speech further states: "In relation to the rate increase from 01 January 2013, it is estimated that the overcharging arising amounts to less than €10 in over 92% of cases." It is as if €10 does not matter. Under the recently introduced insolvency legislation PIPs - I call them pups or predators - will take more money from people and tell them that they must live on €10 or €20 a week. The Minister of State's speech refers to overcharging in 92% of cases being less than €10 and in 98% of cases being less €20. It is as if those amounts of money did not matter. At the same time another agency of government is telling people they have to live on those amounts. That legislation, which the Government proclaims as wonderful, is not worth the paper it is written on. All it will do is push people into the hands of moneylenders again. The PIPs - I call them predators - will talk to the banks on behalf of people but they will have to pay them €3,000 or €4,000 for doing so, which is disgusting and immoral. It is worse than grotesque. I do not know from where this is coming. The Minister of State further stated that very small numbers of cases exceed €50, with €217 being the maximum as if that was the amount one would give a child making his or her confirmation. The people who wrote that speech - they may be in the Chamber and I do not wish to insult them - have little care or understanding of the people of rural Ireland or any taxpayer in Ireland. I say that with the greatest of respect.

They have the attitude that they are the people who cannot be touched. Some of those people were exempted from having to pay the pension levy when lies were told to the late Minister, Deputy Lenihan, to the effect that there were only 120 people in the band earning more than €100,000. However, when I tabled a motion before my parliamentary party and researched this, for which the late Minister thanked me, he found out that there were 700 or 800 such people and they had never paid a pension levy because they had the ear of the Minister and were in his offices. It is a disgusting betrayal of the democratic process in this country. The sooner people recognise this the better or we will have riots on the streets. This is simply outrageous. I cannot believe it.

There is a need for a deterrent, and we must have deterrents but the deterrent is the law enforced by the Garda Síochána. One is stopped at checkpoints by the Garda. There are toll bridges. There are Garda vans everywhere. We are told they are there for safety but it has nothing to do with safety. There are very few accidents in my constituency and Deputy Tom Hayes, who is in the Chair, will not disagree with me on that. Garda vans park in a sneaky way and a light flashes if one passes them. I have thankfully never been the victim of any of them. Perhaps my van would not go fast enough or as I was driving by I may have been looking over the ditch at crops where the Minister, Deputy Coveney, says a bale of hay will be dropped from a helicopter. The Government is going to give one bale of hay to each farmer yet it is going to make farmers tax the tractors that they have had in their farmyards with a yardscraper for the past 20 years. A farmer with a TVO tractor, a David Brown or a Massey Vintage could not have such a tractor on the road because there are no mudguards on them. They are used in the farmyard yet the Minister wants farmers to tax them. He also wants to tax off-road dumpers.

I met a builder from Dublin last week who has no work but when he gets a job he needs to use his vehicle to load equipment. I want a system brought in, for which I have lobbied, and on which I intend to table an amendment to the Bill, that will enable people to pay their motor tax by the month. This is especially important for lorry drivers, sole traders, road hauliers and those who have a combine harvester or a forest harvester. People with a combine harvester or a forest harvester were able to get a few months' work but now they will only get ten days' work I want a system brought in, similar to that which is in place in other countries, where people can pay their motor tax as they go. How can a sole trader driving a lorry pay €2,500 in respect of his lorry when he might not get two days this month, only get a month's work in May or June and no work in October, November and December? That is the reality. The people are going from pump to pump to get the cheapest fuel. A system whereby they can pay motor tax by the month should be included in the legislation. Are we interested in supporting business or are we trying to drive those people out of business?

Those are the types of people we are supposed to be supporting. With every initiative introduced since the Government came into office there has been talk of supporting small businesses. If it supported those in small businesses and left them alone such that they could hold what they have and take on one person, it would halve the unemployment rate, but those people have been hit with one regulation after another. Two years ago a van could not be taxed as a commercial vehicle unless one had a jackhammer and something else in the back of it; it was not enough to have a bottle of milk and one's child sitting in the front of it. That was a myth as well, which has now disappeared. The septic tank charge was to be imposed to persecute every property holder in the country who were portrayed as dirty people which they are not. Thankfully, throughout my county there will be only 49 inspections and there will be probably fewer in Kerry. The Government frightened the lard out of the people with the introduction of that charge. It had to back off because it was nearly not going to get away with it. It cannot persecute people from rural Ireland, parts of Dublin and our towns and make them pay for the ineptitude of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for having dozens of municipal plants in every county spewing sewage into our rivers and seas. The Minister of State knows that and I know that. That is what the EPA was going after and that is the reason it was doing so. The Government tried to create a smoke screen that it was the people of rural Ireland who were polluting the water.

We dealt with the Companies Bill last night which runs to 1,300 pages. It costs €109 to buy it. As I said, one would buy ten of Shane Ross's books and 15 of the late Maeve Binchy's books, God be good to her, and they would make for better reading. Who is going to read that lengthy Bill? It is cumbersome, anti-business, anti-work and anti-society. To beat it all, it can be decided that people who are overcharged will not be paid back because it is too complex to do so. It beggars belief that official Ireland has got away with so much that they think they can do this. They have taken everything away from us in the country.

Similarly in the case of the driver's licence, people were able to obtain a driver's licence in many councils on completion of the required form and payment of the required fee. We had a great relationship with the staff. Now that process is being done nationally. The Road Safety Authority wants its hands all over this to keep its people in jobs. I am talking about Noel Brett and the many other legions of officials. Gabh mo leithscéal. The Ceann Comhairle said that I should not mention names but I find it hard at times to get these people out of my mind because we see them so many times on television advertising something, and so on. They are making a career out of putting misery on ordinary people.

This Bill is a shambles if we cannot put a system in place under it that will allow people to pay their motor tax as they go. People who have a combine harvester or a forest harvester use those machines at a maximum over a six-week season. Have they to tax them for the entire year? Why should they have to pay that level of tax? Issues like that are important. The next thing the Minister will want to tax is the milking machine. He taxed the hearse in the last budget. The shroud will be taxed next and for anyone who does not know what a shroud is, it is a piece of cloth people used to wear when they were being interred. Where will it stop? Tá an tAire ag gáire. He can laugh away but he knows how serious this issue is and I know how serious it is.

The biggest breach of faith of all, and it was referred to in the context of the changes we lobbied for in 2008, was when people took a leap of faith and bought a new low emissions car because they were less costly to tax but that deal is off. Those people have been blackguarded in the past two budgets. The tax on two and three year old cars has doubled and trebled.

The hearse has been taxed since 1967.

Of course, but the tax was increased. They did not have them in 1966. They might have had the horse-drawn one. The Government hardly taxed the horses and carriages. They had a horse-drawn one at that time in my place. The hearse is taxed. Every vehicle on the road should be taxed. I am not advocating that anybody should drive without tax.

That tax was brought in in 1967.

The Minister of State is making an interesting comment but I cannot hear him. Every vehicle on the road must be taxed. One would think from what speakers have said that half the county was driving untaxed vehicles and if stopped they were going to Garda stations to get a garda to sign something for them. That is a disgraceful supposition to be making. It casts a slight on the people and on the Garda Síochána. It is terrible. The biggest problem with this legislation is that it does not include a provision for people to be able to pay their motor tax as they go. This is especially important for people who cannot have their vehicles on the road all the year because of a lack of work in the current deep recession. Road hauliers and sole traders who have lorries are trying to keep their businesses going and trying to stay off the dole queues, not claim jobseeker's allowance and provide for their families. To provide a service, they have to pay for everything but they should be allowed to pay their motor tax as they go and at the very least make a monthly payment.

Deputy Seán Kenny is sharing time with the Deputy O'Mahony. They have five minutes each.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for a prospective system of declaring vehicles off the road for motor tax purposes, closing a loophole whereby owners can declare retrospectively that a vehicle has not been in use on the public road, which is unverifiable. This Bill will replace the current system whereby owners declare a vehicle off the road retrospectively when seeking to tax a vehicle where there are arrears of tax outstanding.

Where owners tell the motor tax authorities they intend to keep their vehicle off the road for a period, they will not be liable for motor tax. This closes off the existing tax evasion loophole, where owners are able to make a declaration at their local Garda station stating that their car was off the road and avoid payment of arrears of motor tax.

I welcome the fact the Government is putting an end to this, and compliant taxpayers will welcome this move as well. Up to €55 million per annum is not collected currently through this form of tax evasion by people not paying their motor tax. I am confident the vast majority of motorists will welcome the tackling of those who are evading motor tax and not paying their fair share. This is a simple change in the rules governing motor tax for vehicles not being used on the road from time to time.

There are many valid reasons a person may wish to put their car off the road for a while, such as working abroad for a time, and they will be facilitated so long as they let their motor tax office know in advance. There will be no change in the rules for those who pay their motor tax on time, or those who end up paying arrears where they let their motor tax slip from time to time. This is especially important in the current economic environment. We need to give people a little breathing space. What this legislation is targeting is the persistent evader - those who abuse the system and evade paying their motor tax altogether.

Once the Bill is enacted, a non-use declaration can be made in advance of the vehicle being taken off the road for a period of between three and 12 calendar months.

The forms can be submitted initially via motor tax offices and will be available via Motor Tax Online later in the year. A declaration can be made up to one month in advance of the expiry of a motor tax disc or a previous declaration of non-use, while purchasers of new and second-hand vehicles will have ten days from the date of registration or change of ownership to make a declaration. The new declaration will not require vehicle owners to make a declaration in a Garda station, as is the case with the current retrospective declarations. I welcome that.

There will be a three-month transitional period to the new system. During this time, those in arrears must pay the arrears and either take out a vehicle licence or make a prospective declaration of non-use. Those whose vehicles have not been on the road must make a retrospective declaration and either take out a vehicle licence or make a prospective declaration of non-use. Following the end of the transition period, only a prospective declaration of non-use can be made. Those who fall into arrears of motor tax will not be able to make a prospective declaration - rather, the arrears and a minimum of three months' motor tax will be payable before a vehicle can be declared off the road.

In addition to the recommendation in the local government efficiency review group report, the 2011 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General also contained a chapter highlighting the level of motor tax evasion and recommending that a more robust system be put in place to deal with off-the-road vehicles. It is estimated that the measures could yield up to €50 million in a full year and I am pleased the Government is taking action.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to the debate on the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013, which puts the responsibility on vehicle owners to declare non-use in advance rather than retrospectively. In view of the amount of avoidance or evasion, it is only fair on those who are compliant that everybody else is brought into line. It is estimated that €50 million will come into the Exchequer as a result. I have no doubt plenty of homes will be found for that money, or savings may not have to be made in other areas. It will go towards protecting vulnerable persons in other areas. From that point of view, the Bill is welcome. However, there are a few issues that the Minister of State may be able to clarify or take into account before the legislation is passed. When the Bill was announced, media reports suggested one had to give three months' advance notice before taking a vehicle off the road. That is fine if it was planned.

It is one month's notice.

I was contacted by a person who has a medical condition and was advised by her consultant not to drive for the next six months. It is difficult for anyone to give notice three months in advance of getting sick. However, the Minister of State has provided clarification as I speak. It is important that such exceptions be taken into account.

There may be an issue for road hauliers. Companies with fleets of trucks may not know from month to month whether they will be doing business and if they will be on or off the road. As this is a very important industry, I ask if there can be some engagement. Perhaps those exceptions can be dealt with. I have no issue with the overall Bill and the thrust of it. The issue needed to be addressed, given all the money lost to the economy. There may be other exceptions that have not occurred to me which we should deal with to ensure a level playing field where a vehicle owner does not have sufficient control over circumstances to allow the giving of advance notice.

I thank the Technical Group and all who work so diligently in the Whips' office for allowing me some speaking time. I appreciate that at all times.

I am totally opposed to the Bill before the House, because it is lacking in common sense. I have read the Minister of State's contribution and what is being proposed in the Bill. The Government is castigating people by generalising and presuming that the vast majority of the public are engaged in telling lies. I do not believe that. If the Minister of State studied the speech he has read into the Dáil record he would be aware that he is castigating many of his constituents as liars. He is castigating many members of the highly respectable Garda force as inaccurately reporting events. I abhor that type of castigation. In the area I come from we have been castigated. People have tried to put us into a box and castigate us as something we are not. The vast majority of people are respectable, hardworking and genuine. In the past, if a person presented to a member of the Garda Síochána to say that his or her vehicle had been off the road - due to a breakdown, a period of working away from home, or the fact that an old van, as many of us had, had been left in the yard for a while because the engine had failed or the radiator burst - the Garda knew it was genuinely off the road and would sign the form. The Minister of State and the Government are castigating those people for having told untruths. I disagree with that at a time when the Minister for Justice and Equality-----

That is not true.

The Minister of State can reply at the end of the debate.

-----is ill-treating the highly respectable members of An Garda Síochána. If one does not have respect for the Garda force one has respect for nothing. Its members get up in the morning and put themselves in harm's way to protect individuals and society. It is clear from reading between the lines of the Minister of State's speech that he is attacking the members of the Garda Síochána, to which I take grave exception.

That is not true.

While I am a Member of this great House I will stand up for the rank and file members of the Garda Síochána on every occasion because the Minister for Justice and Equality certainly will not defend them.

In his contribution the Minister of State said that many people take a holiday from paying motor tax. Either the Minister of State or the person who wrote his speech should go back to speech-writing school, because their speech-writing leaves much to be desired. To suggest that a person would take a holiday from paying his or her motor tax is rubbish and I condemn it.

I want to raise an issue on behalf of those who own lorries, the majority of whom are in real financial difficulty. One may have a lorry parked by the house, but there may be no work for it. Motor tax on a lorry may be between €2,000 and €3,000 a year. If the Government was interested in being proactive in keeping people in employment, it would introduce legislation to allow for lorrymen to tax their lorries on a monthly basis, not on a three or six monthly basis. A lorryman could be idle for several months but might get a offer of several weeks work. He should be allowed to tax the lorry for that period to enable him to take on this work and make a few pounds for himself and his family. That is what the Government should be doing in legislation.

My problem with the Government is that it is staring into the skies, wondering from where we will attract foreign investment to create employment, while missing the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room is our honest to God, hard-working people who are doing their best to find a day’s work for themselves or even provide for an employee or two. I take grave exception to the way the Minister portrayed his views.

I also take the opportunity to speak about the Road Safety Authority, RSA. I can only be complimentary to the agency as in 2005 there were 369 road deaths, while last year there were only 186. I acknowledge all involved in this excellent work. There is, however, such a thing as people getting it into their heads that they are geniuses about their work and, as we used to say long ago, their heads can become a small bit swelled. Recently the RSA proposed that fully licensed drivers accompanying young drivers on a provisional licence could be breathalysed. Who dreamed this up and thought it was a good idea? The person who drafted this ridiculous proposal should be breathalysed. It is the RSA going completely off the wall. What will it suggest next? Will it suggest that to make the roads completely safe we close them all together and stop traffic?

In his travels around the country the Ceann Comhairle will have seen farmers selling farm goods such as spuds, carrots, tomatoes and onions from stalls on the side of the road, a good development. Again, however, geniuses in the RSA have decided this is an unsafe practice and the Government agrees with them. This is ridiculous. If a farmer wants to set up a little stall beside a van on the side of the road, sell his or her goods and make a couple of pounds for himself or herself and his or her family, not only should he or she be allowed to do so, he or she should be encouraged to do so. It is ridiculous to suggest that because a person travelling in a motor car stops to purchase such goods it creates a road traffic hazard. Again, those suggesting this should be breathalysed because they are off the wall. We should encourage farmers to sell their farm goods. They should pick a safe location on the side of the road, set up their little stall and make a few pounds for themselves. Is that not what this country was all about? It was about people being resilient, hard-working, diligent and using their imagination to make a couple of pounds for themselves. For any Government and the RSA to condemn that practice shows it has gone off the wall.

It must be remembered these are the ones who fell asleep at the wheel when we were building motorways from Dublin to Cork and Limerick. What did the RSA do about ensuring there would be service stations on motorways where people could rest, have a cup of coffee, use a toilet and get a bite of food?

Can we, please, get back to what is contained in the Bill?

We will, but you must admit that what I am saying is interesting and true.

It is very interesting, but it has nothing to do with the legislation.

I am coming back to it. It was ridiculous that the RSA did not demand service stations in the interests of safety when the Government was investing hard earned taxpayers’ money in these great roads, roads I am glad have been provided. Were it not for the Fitzpatrick family building a service station at junction 14 on the M8, we would not have a service station on the Dublin-Cork motorway. It is ridiculous. As I am very respectful to you, a Cheann Comhairle, as you know, I am coming back to the Bill.

It is not to me. It is a rule of the House that a Member should speak to the Bill.

I am coming back to it.

When it comes to the Government’s dealings on this matter, we have gone a step too far. I would have preferred if it had used its time more productively, instead of bringing a Bill such as this before the House and putting down our people, the very ones who work hard in trying to keep themselves going. What does it want to do? Does it want to put everyone on the dole queue or into a box of being unemployed? Would it not allow a little encouragement and a spirit of free enterprise? Would it not be better if we on this side heard it acknowledge that those involved in the transport and haulage sector are suffering severe financial times and that it wanted to help them productively by introducing a simple measure that would allow lorries to be taxed on a four-weekly basis? However, I had to read the Minister’s speech three times because I was so shocked by it that I said to myself, “Oh my God. The Nanny State gone mad.” If we were in Red Russia, it would not be as a bad. I know the Minister of State is a very nice man and I would rather he was not in order that I could be more severe in my criticism. At the same time, I have to lay my cards on the table. What the Minister tried to defend tonight was actually indefensible. The Bill is crazy as it attacks and accuses people of being dishonest. It assumes €55 million is not paid in motor tax by the majority who genuinely claim their vehicle has been off the road and clear it with their local garda. How dare the Government presume the people-----

I apologise for interrupting the Deputy, but as it is 7.30 p.m., we have to adjourn the debate.

That is a shame because I was only starting to get going.


The Deputy will have another chance the next day.

Debate adjourned.