Finance (Local Property Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [Private Members]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I support the Sinn Féin Bill. Not for the first time, the Government has introduced a tax which does not do what it says on the tin. We have PRSI that does not provide one with anything and does not do what it says on the tin. The Government has introduced a carbon tax, the proceeds of which will not be spent on insulating people's homes or creating circumstances in which carbon emissions can be reduced. The proceeds of the tax which is the subject of the Bill before us do not go where they are meant to. Far from providing more money for local authorities, all the tax will do is fill the hole the Government has created by paying off debts we never accrued in the first place.

Even if that were not the case, there would be a problem in terms of accountability. If one spends money, there should be accountability in respect of what happens to it. Under the current local authority system and the one the Government plans to introduce, local authority members have and will have no power. They have the power to bow down to the Executive and keep quiet about waste, after which they might get a few crumbs. How can one back a system like that? Even if the money was not being taken from local government, it would simply be going into a bucket with a hole in it. Fix the hole first, please.

I support the Bill. Many people have seen through the tax. They saw that the only reason it was introduced was to allow the Government to pay off debts to the IMF, ECB and European Commission. The tax is not about improving services to people in local authority areas. For every cent it raises, a cent will be removed from local authority funding. No additional services will be provided nor will it sustain the services that are there already. Across local authorities, people see services being removed and closed.

We must acknowledge that the registration rate has been very high. The Government should clap itself on the back for that. It has frightened, harassed and threatened people to the effect that it was coming after them and will get the money anyway. People recognised that and through fear and gritted teeth, they signed up to pay the tax. As the tax starts to be deducted from people's wages and incomes, their anger will get deeper and deeper. The Government has created that anger by introducing this completely unfair tax and imposing it on people solely to pay off debts to the troika.

I pay tribute to all those who resisted the household charge and the property tax as it was introduced. In particular, I pay tribute to the people of Donegal who resisted these unfair taxes tooth and nail right the way through. They have seen what the tax is doing and will do in future. It is sad to say, but if Sinn Féin had openly supported the campaigns over the last year and a half outside the House rather than opposing the tax inside the House only, we might have been able to build a movement that would have rejected the tax outright and forced the Government to climb down.

The local property tax is misnamed. It is a home tax and a further burden on people who are already struggling and it should, of course, be abolished. I support the motion on that basis. It should never have been implemented in the first place. It is an absolute insult to homeowners struggling with hefty mortgages and people who have sacrificed all their lives to put a roof over their heads to find that taxation is being foisted on their shoulders when an alternative marginal increase in income tax on high earners could have yielded a similar amount of money. It is more insulting when one considers the sacrifices those people are making to pay the tax but that it will not be used to benefit local services. The dogs in the street know local services are under attack. Instead, this is a bondholders' tax.

We have listened to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, and his Government colleagues bragging that they have brow-beaten people into registering for the tax. They may think they have convinced people but methinks they do protest too much. The tax is hated. The fact that the Government had to introduce such draconian legislation to brow-beat people into registering is proof not of its success but of its weakness. We do not know how many Mickey Mouses and Donald Ducks have registered for the tax but I would think it is quite a few. Many more registered who indicated that they will pay cash, but will not when it comes to the time. One way or another, people will resist this. The Government may succeed in squeezing it out of them in this way because of the Revenue Commissioners, but people will only end up failing to pay their mortgages and not being able to buy goods in the shops. The legacy of what the Government has robbed from them will be the price the Government will most definitely pay in the next election.

I support the Bill to repeal the unfair family home tax legislation which should never have been enacted in the first place. Last year, more than 1 million households boycotted the household tax and thousands and thousands of households held off from registering until the very last minute, which is indicative of the opposition of ordinary people to the draconian legislation. It is not a wealth tax as the Labour Party has stated. Less than 2% of the revenue which will be collected will come from homes worth more than €1 million. People registered in anger, dismay, anxiety and distress. I had elderly people in my office who were crying as they asked what the hell was going on and why the Government was breaking them like this. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, says the public believes the tax is fair, to which I reply "codswallop". What is fair about draconian taxation that imposes penalties. if one cannot pay, of 4% simple interest? People were bullied and threatened and they could not afford not to pay. We saw the overvaluation of homes, issues with tax clearance certificates and the absence of an organised fight-back through the trade union movement, even though hundreds of thousands of workers put down motions at their conferences.

What is happening is exactly what we said would happen. VAT returns are already down by €250 million. I was in a local DID shop yesterday and was told that in January, February and March things seemed to be turning around whereas in the last three months trade has been as dead as a dodo. People are really getting frightened now as one sees when one talks to people on the ground. Tesco, which is one of the largest supermarket retailers in the country, has linked the fall in its sales of 3% directly to the announcement of the local property tax. This is a hated tax and this is a hated Government.

I will continue to oppose the family home tax. I agree with Deputy Pringle's point that it is well for Sinn Féin to come out and launch a national campaign to repeal the tax when it should have been out on the streets to oppose it before.

I support the Bill. The Taoiseach said "it is morally wrong, unjust and unfair to tax a person's home". He has reneged on that promise as he has reneged on many another policy during his period in government.

This is a form of double taxation as we have already paid these taxes. It pays no regard to ability to pay. As other speakers have said, not a single extra cent will go to local authorities for local authority services. In the last four years, more than €534 million has been taken out of local authority budgets. This is a rip-off to pay the banks and the bondholders. We know that because the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government himself has told us. Speaking in the House on 21 February 2013 on the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, stated:

In 2012, €46.5 million of motor tax income was transferred from the local government fund to the Exchequer. This year, an amount of up to €150 million will be similarly transferred. These are necessary measures towards the reduction of the national debt.

Motor tax income is part of the local authority fund. We are paying banks and bondholders from the local government fund and replacing that fund with the hated local property tax.

Local authority tenants will also have to pay the tax through their rent and lower and middle-income families who own their house, even if it is in huge negative equity and mortgage arrears, are compelled to pay this tax. It is a shameful item of regressive legislation, introduced with the support of the Labour Party. It is certainly not a property tax, it is a family home tax and is called a property tax to attempt to fool the population. It is a hated tax and the public are waiting for the opportunity to give the Government parties a bloody nose. They will do so in the local and European elections in 2014.

The Labour Party has played a despicable role in this and I call on members of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party to instruct their unions immediately to stop taking the political levy from contributions. This is a method of sending a strong message to the Labour Party.

This is nothing but a populist Bill with no credibility and it reflects the type of Darby O'Gill economics we have become used to from Sinn Féin. In the last budget, the Sinn Féin budget proposals were not costed by the Department of Finance, the first time in the history of the State an Opposition party has submitted proposals that were not costed. If this was a meaningful debate, we would discuss the legitimacy of property tax. It is bizarre that so-called left-wing Members of the House are opposed to the principle of property tax. They can argue about its construction and its progressiveness-----

It is a family home tax.

-----and other matters but left-wing parties opposing the principle of a property tax beggars belief. In a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform before Christmas, every economist from the left and the right spoke about the progressive nature of property tax as opposed to income tax. Even spokespersons invited before the committee by Sinn Féin agreed with the concept of a property tax.

The Labour Party has made a mistake on property tax and it made it in 1997. Back then, a property tax was introduced on the market value of houses over £101,000, which is what we were dealing in at the time. It equates to just under €130,000 today. A further requirement was an income in excess of £30,000, which equates to just under €40,000. The average industrial wage at the time was some €17,000, so this was a benign tax. However, following massive media pressure headed by Gay Byrne, which Fintan O'Toole referred to during the presidential campaign, the Government backed away from the tax. What a pity. The type of gatekeeping that would have been in place, if the tax had held, would have caused the abatement of the bubble. At the time, mortgages were issued at a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 with regard to household income. If people had seen house values approaching €100,000 but wages remaining static, they would realise that something was wrong and that the property sector was getting out of control. In terms of normalising and managing a housing market, which is something the Government is doing through the insolvency legislation and other ways because of the need to have a housing market, the property tax is a critical part.

Who does the tax apply to? There are 1.6 million households in the country. Some 129,000 households are living in local authority houses, according to 2011 figures. Some 25,000 are in rent free accommodation, 15,000 are living in voluntary housing co-operatives, and 300,000 people are renting in the private sector. When talking about hardship, we are referring to the mortgage sector, people whose principal residence is their home. Some 1.1 million people are in that sector and the amazing thing is that half of the people who own their homes do not have a mortgage. In fact, they have not had a mortgage for years and the percentage is now greater than it was in 2011 because new mortgages have been at an all-time low since 2011 but people who entered mortgages in 1993 are now exiting. The proposal by Sinn Féin is not to tax people who can afford to pay a property tax. Half of the homeowners in the country do not have a mortgage and Sinn Féin does not want to tax them.

There is an issue of hardship and it is regrettable that the Bill did not look at equity and progressiveness. In that case we could talk about people in real difficulty rather than the approach of wiping the slate clean and finding €250 million elsewhere. That debate did not happen this evening and that is why we have Darby O'Gill politics coming from our colleagues in Sinn Féin.

The Fianna Fáil contribution last night was very interesting. It appears the Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson does not understand the deferral system. The deferral system is based on simple interest, so that people defer the sum and it runs for ten years. We are now arriving at the point where housing inflation is beginning to return. Even at a rate of 2.5%, if someone defers for ten years, the house will be worth more in ten years time than it is now and the sum deferred will be one third of the value added based on a 2.5% rate. It makes sense for an elderly person to defer because he or she is not leaving a debt but leaving an asset that acquires value at a modest rate of 2.5% over the next ten years.

It is a family home.

That shows the nonsense of the proposal because the asset is being left to someone with a value. The person is not leaving behind debt but an asset that is increasing in value over the next ten years.

The goal is to get Ireland into a position of recovery. We have commenced work on it. One of the significant areas of the Irish economy that needs recovery is the normalisation of the housing market. We do not need a return to the days of boom and bust but a structured recovery built upon a sustainable model. Property tax is part of that and it is regrettable that Sinn Féin has taken this position. It did not even have the bottle to call for a boycott of the property tax. The earlier press release by Sinn Féin did not call for a boycott of the property tax because if it entered government, it would have to deliver on that promise and would not do so. I recommend the Bill is opposed in the strongest terms.

Let us talk about the chameleon known as Sinn Féin. Let us look at what the chameleon known as Sinn Féin is calling for, a repeal of the Act enacted last year. What about the five members of the chameleon known as Sinn Féin in the North of Ireland, who are members of the House of Commons? Have they ever tabled a Bill before the House of Commons looking for repeal of the district home tax in the North of Ireland? No.

We are abstentionists.

Let us look at what the chameleon known as Sinn Féin has done here with regard to councils. What have they asked council candidates for the next election to do? Council candidates will stand on the platform of reducing the local property tax rate in this country. What did the candidates for the chameleon known as Sinn Féin do in the 2011 election in the North? Did they mention they would reduce the district home tax in Northern Ireland, where they have control?

I would like to live in Castlereagh. It has the lowest district home tax in Northern Ireland because not one Sinn Féin member sits on the district council of Castlereagh. Where Sinn Féin has dominated, in places such as Newry, there has been a 50% increase in the value of the district home tax over the rate in Castlereagh.

Why does Deputy Anthony Lawlor not stand for election in Castlereagh? He would not get one vote.

The chameleon known as Sinn Féin operates on two levels. It does not tell the truth about what is going on down here.

Any well-run economy requires taxes to pay for its expenditure.

We have three of the main four types, including a tax on spending, VAT and excise; taxes on transactions, which have been severely hit because stamp duty receipts are a quarter of what they were in the boom; and a tax on work, namely, income tax. The Government has joined the well-run economies by broadening the tax base for the future and introducing a property tax targeted at providing community services.

I can tell the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, with regard to the measures already introduced, including the reduction in VAT, that there is a clear benefit in encouraging spending and domestic demand for the future, and hopefully for the near future, by continuing to reduce the tax on spending and, more importantly, by lowering the cost of work through reductions in income tax. However, in a time of crisis, income tax, VAT and excise can be changed up or down as an economy or people require. A property tax is a far more difficult thing to put in place. Notwithstanding the excellent compliance of people in this country, given that 90% have signed up, and while people want to pay as little tax as possible, there is an understanding that the reduction should come through taxes on work and spending.

I congratulate the people of our country on their intelligence and patriotism in seeing that this tax is an effort to recover our economic sovereignty in the short term and, in the long term, to establish a fair and broad tax base that is fit for purpose and that can adapt to the way an economy can fluctuate at any time. I reject the Bill and I question whether the so-called socialists have really looked at the ideological position.

Like many Deputies, I am amazed but not surprised that Sinn Féin has put a Bill to repeal the property tax before the House. It has been said on a number of occasions that Sinn Féin, in introducing this Bill, is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. Sinn Féin supported a property tax in Northern Ireland but vehemently opposes it in the South where, thankfully, the party is not in government.

The constant Sinn Féin rebuttal to this argument is that the property tax paid in Northern Ireland pays for school transport, refuse collection and some other school services, unlike here where none of these services is covered. That is true, and it is the message Sinn Féin is anxious to convey. However, the cost differential is enormous. In my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, the average tax band is band 2, which is €224 in a full year. In County Fermanagh, the cost set out by the local council is £790, which is equivalent to €916. For the collection of refuse and the transportation of their children to school the good people of Fermanagh pay almost £700. The reality is that the property tax here is far less than the property tax in Northern Ireland which is defended by Sinn Féin.

The Taoiseach has constantly stated that this Government will not increase personal taxation or, as it is quite correctly described, tax on work. Clearly, this is the alternative. I oppose scrapping this tax, as is suggested. Clearly, we cannot return to the system of the 1980s, when I and many other people paid up to 65 pence in the pound in personal taxation. This country continues to run a current budget deficit of over €1 billion per month. The receipts from the LPT will ensure that the Government has a tax income that corresponds to our property prices, which may rise in prosperous times and remain low during difficult times for our people. This tax presents an opportunity for us to ensure that all users of our services, libraries and public amenities pay something, rather than almost always depending on the PAYE or self-employed sector.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I agree with much of what Deputy Dara Murphy said in his contribution. When one considers the level of the deficit we faced when we came into Government, there were no easy choices. This certainly is not a popular tax, as has been stated. There is no point in saying otherwise. However, the decision was either to take this option or to increase income tax. As a commitment was given not to increase income tax, this is the option that had to be taken.

A number of people have approached me about the property tax over the last number of months. Instead of looking at what happened in the past, they are looking at what will happen in the future. People tell me that if they are going to pay a property tax that will go to their local authority, they want to see how it will be spent. Accountability in that regard will be very important. At present, local authorities simply cannot provide all the services they are required to provide. We must devise a transparent taxation system whereby we can point out to people where their taxes are being spent. The Government was correct to stay away from increasing income tax in so far as it could.

There is one matter among the concerns people have raised with me which we could examine in the next budget and, perhaps, tweak the system and make it fairer. I have been contacted by a number of people in estates in County Galway who are paying management fees. There is concern about that. Management companies have different levels of fee and some provide different services to the people who pay them. This is causing a great deal of anger, confusion and upset. People in those estates say they are getting as much as they can from the local authority. Perhaps we could work out a deal with them and their management companies to make it fair for them as well, because many of those people feel left out in this regard at present.

I do not wish to rehash the reasons we are in a situation that requires a property tax. Who wants to have a property tax? Who wants to impose rates on people and so forth? We should park those arguments. We had them not so long ago and we spent a long time talking about it. Tonight, we are spending more time on it.

Are we being asked to suspend reality here? The Chair has asked us to speak on the Bill, but the Bill is two pages in length. It states that we will cancel what has happened previously, because that is the populist thing to do, but what happens then? We have gone through the Bill. There is nothing constructive in it. I do not believe this is constructive opposition or that it contains anything to address the issues facing people. In fact, the more than 80% of people who have paid their property tax to date see that this Bill is a load of whitewash. It is catering only to a certain element of people - not all people - who do not want to pay for anything and do not think that anybody should have to pay for anything. However, that is not how things work.

What is being created in this Bill is something fantastical, as if we will suddenly change our minds. It is absolutely ridiculous. It is in the same vein as a previous Private Members' motion from Sinn Féin which sought to create a stimulus package that would spend the pension reserve once again and which contained another proposal to approach the European Investment Bank. The same party said we should not have paid the promissory notes. It has no credibility whatsoever. It is what I call the republic of fantasyland. That is all Sinn Féin proposes when economics are involved. I urge people not to go near it unless the party can come up with something a little more constructive.

In that context, there are many compliant people who do not like the tax but who understand the requirement for balancing books and understand that the tax must be levied in that spirit. The people who have paid their tax are apprehensive about one thing and that is the value of their property. They are apprehensive because they do not know if they are competent to value it. Who can value property at present, given the way things are? My request is that people who have valued their property and complied with the notice of estimate provided to them in their region will be afforded the comfort of knowing that they will not be audited or investigated by the Revenue Commissioners for the next three years until property prices recover and the country gets into a better position.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Regardless of whether we like it, the property tax is needed to maintain essential local services in our communities. This Bill is an opportunistic, populist move by the Opposition. The same Opposition regularly calls for improved services in every local authority in the country and insists on more funding for communities in those same local authority areas, with no regard for where the money will come from or how it is raised. This is not the political leadership or responsibility that is required in this country at present. It is just scaremongering, peddling misinformation and encouraging people not to pay taxes that are passed by the democratic institutions of this State.

Fianna Fáil, the party that ran our economy onto the rocks, signed up for a property tax as part of the bailout terms it agreed with the troika. Now it is doing a U-turn for populist reasons. It is vote-gathering in a disingenuous way. Sinn Féin opposed the household charge and now opposes the property tax but in its so-called alternative budgets it did not make provision for the resulting shortfall of over €160 million.

How would it pay for local services? It does not tell us. This is the great economic black hole that Sinn Féin has created. In the North it is happy to collect an average of £1,000 per household for spending on local services.

Of course, Sinn Féin points the finger of blame up there at Westminster, while here it points it at the Irish Government. The party always puts it on the other hand and the other finger. This is real populism at its very worst. Regarding the Independents and the independent socialists, I always thought that socialism promoted and supported the idea of progressive taxation, but not the unique group that we have, the motley crew in Dáil Éireann. They, and indeed Sinn Féin representatives, went around this country encouraging people, at marches and public meetings, not to pay the household charge.

We did not do that.

What was the result? They were competing with each other. Sinn Féin was competing with the independent socialists, going into communities and telling people not to pay their taxes. Where are they now, when those people have to pay more? They have codded the people and now they have deserted them. That is what Sinn Féin was doing - going around the country, cod acting and leading people astray.

Earth to cuckoo land.

That is the ill-judged, populist politics in which Sinn Féin is engaging.

The Deputy is over time.

The Sinn Féin Deputies come back in here and table parliamentary questions to Ministers in this House, encourage their local authority members to demand and insist on services and so forth, but they never demand to know where the money will come from.

That is the populism and the lack of leadership that Sinn Féin has and always will have.

That was a fact-free contribution.

On a quieter note, Deputy Doherty seems to have overlooked the fact that this property tax was voted for in here, in this Chamber, democratically only a few months ago. Why is the Deputy wasting our time putting forward such a Bill at all? It would be great-----

The Deputy should ask her constituents.

I will answer that point shortly. It would be great if we could get on with more pertinent matters such as-----

We could go on about private schools, for example, as the Deputy did yesterday.

-----how the taxes are returned to the constituencies. Dún Laoghaire constituency had one of the highest compliance rates for the household charge at 89%. By comparison, Donegal, represented by Deputy Doherty, had the lowest rate of compliance, at 65.8%. It is unthinkable for my constituents to be forced to subsidise Deputy Doherty's flock.

We have been subsidising the private schools in Deputy Mitchell O'Connor's constituency for long enough. The Deputy was crowing about them yesterday.

I will be insisting that 79% to 80% of the constituency's moneys be returned to Dún Laoghaire, to match the compliance rate. The distribution of local authority funds must be fair and proportionate to revenues collected. I will not countenance some counties paying for everything while others pay for nothing. As my constituents in Dún Laoghaire are paying huge property taxes-----

The constituents of Dún Laoghaire are some of the wealthiest in the country, is that not so?

-----I will be seeking a further lowering of parking charges and commercial rates as a result of this money reverting back to the constituency. At a small-business meeting in Dún Laoghaire last week, the resounding cry from the SME representatives and traders present was that commercial rates were killing their business. This cannot continue. If Dún Laoghaire pays the most, then by God, they will get the most back to fund their roads, cemeteries, parks and so forth. Unlike Deputy Doherty, who is not in the Chamber at the moment, we in Government are more concerned with how we can improve this country rather than wasting time. If the Deputy had any real and relevant solutions as to how he would improve the country, I would love to hear them. He should stop wasting time, stop being populist and stop his antics.

A property tax is necessary to restore our public finances. We cannot continue to spend more money than we raise in taxes. We are borrowing approximately €1 billion per month and we still have to reduce the general Government deficit to below 3% of GDP by 2015. A property tax is a responsible way to reduce this deficit. The OECD commission on taxation and the ESRI agree that a property tax is less harmful for the economy than other forms of tax. It is a tax on assets rather than employment and, therefore, will not negatively affect job creation. The rate of the property tax will not be increased in the rest of the term of this Government, after it becomes fully operative in 2014. The Government property tax is fair and progressive, as more expensive properties are liable to more tax in cash terms. This is because the tax is a percentage charge of 0.18% of the value of the property. A further progressive feature is the higher rate for houses worth €1 million or more, which are liable to a rate of tax of 0.25%. This higher rate allows for a lower standard rate for everybody else.

A property tax is a form of wealth tax. Property is the main form of wealth for most people in this country and the best one to tax, as property cannot be moved abroad. A system of voluntary deferral arrangements for owner-occupiers will be implemented for cases where there is an inability to pay, where gross income does not exceed €15,000 for a single person and €25,000 for a couple. For income-stressed owner-occupiers who have an outstanding mortgage, an adjustment to gross income will apply such that 80% of the mortgage interest can be subtracted from gross income in determining an inability to pay. There are some exemptions from the LPT such as for houses in unfinished estates. There is also a three-year exemption from property tax for buyers of new homes and first-time buyers.

Sinn Féin's opposition to a property tax in the South does not appear to be shared in the North. While sitting in government in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin agreed to an increase in household rates of over 10% from 2011 to 2014. This is on top of the existing high levels of tax. A house worth £200,000 in Derry is liable to household rates of over £1,500 per annum. Fianna Fáil would keep the household charge which this Government's property tax replaces. Therefore, Fianna Fáil would actually have a property tax but it favours a flat rate where everyone pays the same amount regardless of the value of the house.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. No one here wants to increase the tax burden for anyone. All of us would like to be in a position to improve the lives of our constituents. All politicians want to be in a position of announcing and implementing good news again for our constituents. However, some of us live in the real world and we have seen many examples of irresponsible attitudes in politics in the past. These have landed our country, our people and many of our families in an awful mess. Sometimes it is easy for us to forget that just two and a half years ago there was a real possibility that we would run out of money. There was a huge concern about how we would pay for essentials like social welfare payments and salaries for public servants such as nurses, doctors, teachers and gardaí. The money we needed to support our health and education services was under threat. We needed new taxation measures to raise revenue. Unpopular measures were needed in order to maintain basic services. This Government has had the courage to implement these measures and we have restored the financial integrity of the State by doing so.

It is internationally accepted that a property tax is one of the fairest and most effective ways of raising revenue. However, doing what is right is not always popular. It will cost the parties which implement such measures dearly in popularity terms. This Government is simply putting the country and our people first. There is no easy political gain in any of this. However, this Private Member's motion from Sinn Féin is nothing more than political expediency. Sinn Féin constantly tells us that it accepts the figure for the overall fiscal adjustment that is needed but it knocks every measure proposed by the Government to meet the adjustment targets. We must have a sustainable balance between our income and our expenditure, like any good household.

We have come a long way over the last three years. We can provide services, while at the same time sowing the seeds of recovery in our economy. That is exactly what is happening. It is wonderful to see that unemployment is finally decreasing - this is the fourth successive quarter in which the numbers are falling. I personally would like to thank the 80% of Irish householders who have paid their property tax to date.

I will start by taking up the point just made by Deputy Collins. On my behalf and that of the Government, I wish to thank the Irish people for their extraordinary patience and compliance. Had anyone suggested at the introduction of this new tax that we would obtain a compliance rate of about 90% within a short number of months, he or she would not have been believed. That is an extraordinary sign of the compliance and the support of the people for this Government. They know the direction in which we want to go. Shouting, roaring and screaming about things will not solve our problems.

As a society, a Government and a people, we need to chart a way forward. The point has already been made about the need to have a sustainable tax base. In that context, we should not forget one simple statistic. Under Fianna Fáil, in a 12 month period in 2008, tax revenues went from €51 billion to €37 billion. They collapsed because of the collapse of the property market. The task of this Government or indeed any Government, even one involving the Communist Party of Ireland or Sinn Féin, is relatively simple.

The task of the Government is to broaden the tax base and take in more taxes. In reducing the deficit we are doing that.

Any party, including Sinn Féin, whatever about the nonsense of the debate yesterday and today, which proposes the abolition of a property tax will be laughed out of court. This country needs to move away from its obsession with the taxation of income and work. We still have 1.8 million people working in our economy, rather than the 2 million at the top of the boom. The best way to keep those people at work and create the conditions for more people to enter the labour market on a sustainable basis is not to increase tax on work.

We already have tax on work of approximately 52%, comprising a 41% basic top rate and 11% between USC and PRSI, on quite small amounts of income, namely, anything over €32,500. Are we seriously suggesting that we can create a jobs rich economy by continuing to tax the hell out of people which, ultimately, is the Sinn Féin proposal? It is inevitable that we have to have a property tax and that it will be part and parcel of our taxation system into the future if people are honest.

The Deputies opposite claim some of my colleagues never read their documents. I read them very closely and keep a very close eye on what they have to say. I would like to talk about what they have to say because it is the nub of the debate. The Deputies opposite should answer three simple questions.

At his Ard-Fheis, Deputy Doherty proposed the abolition of USC. Is that still the position of Sinn Féin? If it is, it will have to find another €985 million to make sure the figures stack up. Of course it will not do that. We need to hear whether that is still its position. Is it still its position to reduce VAT, which we had to increase from 21% to 23%? If it is, it will have to find another €500 million. Sinn Féin would be €1.5 billion in deficit, irrespective of what it would do about wealth tax.

On 12 November last Deputy Doherty published an explanatory memorandum rather than proposed legislation. Today I asked the Bills Office for a copy of his wealth tax Bill and was told it did not have it because there are no details. It is just a speech which can be transposed and says a wealth tax will solve all our problems. On 12 November last Deputy Doherty told us: "It is our intention to table a Private Members' motion on the issue at the soonest opportunity." Let us have it now.

When Sinn Féin produces its pre-budget submission it does not start from what it said the previous year, rather, it starts from the hard measures the Deputies on this side of the House advocate and back which it then opposes. It does not compensate for that in its pre-budget submission the following year. At the heart of the Sinn Féin alternative is a fundamental lie. It knows it, we know it and the country knows it. That is why it is going down in the polls and why the comeback for Sinn Féin is nowhere near.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak. The reason we have a property tax is because the economy has collapsed and we need to broaden our tax base. The problem began in 1977 when, for cheap political reasons, Fianna Fáil abolished rates. Sinn Féin proposes them in the North on a regular basis and is afraid to reduce them.

What Sinn Féin proposes is quite simple. Repealing the property tax and repaying the money, which has been paid by the generous people of this country at a substantial rate, would mean we would automatically, as Deputy McGrath said, need an emergency budget to find an extraordinary amount of money. I listened to the leader of Sinn Féin this morning, Deputy Adams, speaking about cuts to respite care, carers and so on. There would be even more serious cuts in those areas if we paid back the money that has been collected. We need a solid base to have fairness in society.

There has been ongoing reluctance of on the part of Opposition parties to buy into this position. Sinn Féin was initially reluctant to get involved but some of its members suggested they would not pay and provided a lot of misinformation. An extra €7 million in penalties have been paid by the decent people of the country as a result of that cheap political stunt.

The people of Donegal, Deputy Doherty's area, have paid €337,000 in penalties so far. The people in Meath, Deputy Tóibín's county, have paid €236,000 in penalties so far. The people in my county have paid €100,000 as a result of Sinn Féin's misinformation. That is the result of the cheap political stunt Sinn Féin has proposed time and again.

Yet again, its hypocrisy knows no bounds. It is not afraid to go up to the North and propose rates of up to £1,500 on average per house. The tax in the South is a fraction of that. All we have are cheap political stunts.

Sinn Féin never advocated a no pay campaign. We were very scrupulous about that. It is another lie which needs to be nailed, along with others I heard in the past 15 minutes.

Deputy Deering obviously has a problem with the truth. We have actively campaigned against the tax and offered costed, reasonable alternatives. If we fail in our endeavours today we will continue to campaign against this tax at every opportunity. We have given a commitment that if we are ever in government we will repeal it.

To put the family home tax into context, Fianna Fáil came up with the bright idea of taxing people's homes, regardless of ability to pay. In its national recovery plan 2011 to 2014 it committed itself to an interim site value tax of €100. Page 92 stated Fianna Fáil's national recovery plan would introduce an interim site value tax in 2012, applicable to all land other than agricultural land and land subject to commercial rates. The interim measure would involve a fixed local service contribution of about €100. The final site value tax would be introduced in 2013 when valuations were completed.

It goes on to commit Fianna Fáil to doubling the tax at an average of just over €200 per dwelling or site which would raise €530 million. It is roughly the same as what the Minister, his party and the Labour Party are doing in government. I raise this issue to remind the public that there is no difference between the coalition of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil on this issue. If one votes for one of them one gets them all.

There is some confusion in the coalition. Fianna Fáil was in favour of the property tax but no longer is. Fine Gael was against it but now supports it. The Labour Party flip-flopped all over the place but the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, told us three years ago it would be perverse to tax people's homes. Now it is doing that in government. Any crocodile tears from Fianna Fáil are opportunism. In power it too would champion the family home tax.

Not only is the tax an attack on low-income families, it also serves to undermine local democracy. Local authorities raise almost 60% of their funding, but the Government has continued to slash funding. The public pay motor tax to fund local services, in particular roads, but the Government grabbed €150 million to pay debts. Households will not receive one extra service from the tax. People pay income taxes, motor tax and local authority charges.

Now they are obliged to pay an additional tax for the very same services. Some households will also pay separately for fire services and so on, while every household is now paying separately to private companies for waste collection.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, is not in the Chamber tonight. He took over the management of this tax from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, last year, but he has sent the latter in here tonight as a backstop for the Government. Deputy Noonan has disappeared, along with the Minister of State at his Department, who made false accusations before running out of the Chamber. The Minister for Finance must have woken up dizzy this morning after all the spinning he did yesterday. He claimed that Sinn Féin presided over domestic rates in the North, which he equated to a local property tax. He neglected to outline the services covered by that payment. He also forgot to mention that, unlike the family home tax in this State, the provision in the North includes a clause whereby people who have an inability to pay are exempted. People on disabled person's allowance, for example, pensioners and those in receipt of housing benefit do not have to pay.

What about the principle of the tax?

The Minister stuck it to all those categories of people in this State. I am not here to defend the Six Counties.

Yes; I thought the Deputy was in favour of a united Ireland.

We want to see an end to the Six Counties state. Republicans in Sinn Féin are committed to abolishing it. If the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is talking to his British counterpart at one of their many meetings he should say that to him.

The Deputy's party talks to him too.

The Minister for Finance failed to acknowledge that the rates in the North cover such services as education, including school books, transport and meals, fire services, emergency services, health care, social services, roads with no tolls, waste collection, water, sewerage, including septic tank desludging, and leisure and recreational facilities. In this State, on the other hand, householders have to pay up to three times for some of these services, first through income tax, then through the family home tax and finally through local charges.

The Government is intent on forcing people, particularly low and middle-income families, to pay for this recession. It has failed utterly to ensure the pain is shared, instead heaping it on those least able to bear it, people who played no part in causing the economic crisis. After two and a half years in office, the Government's mantra of blaming the Fianna Fáil Party is beginning to wear thin.

The Deputy was blaming Fianna Fáil a few minutes ago.

I assign that party the blame it is due. The family home tax is simply a tax too far. Yet people will also face bills for water next year, those charges being introduced, rather conveniently, after the local elections are out of the way. Is there no threshold below which the Government is not prepared to stoop in order to ensure the rich in our society do not have to pay?

The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, spoke in his contribution about taxation. He did not even have the relevant figures. I have them in my hand, direct from the Minister's senior officials in response to a parliamentary question. The figures show that people earning between €100,000 and €125,000 paid income tax of 21%. This information is on the public record, yet the Minister of State is not even aware of it. That is disgraceful. He does not have the information but he sees fit to make a false accusation before running out of the Chamber.

I understand that Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, who lives in a huge mansion in Westmeath which is reportedly valued at millions of euro, allegedly falls into category three of the property tax, which means a payment of €157 this year. That is amazing. The tax makes no distinction between rich and poor. Whether at the behest of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party, it is an imposition that punishes the poor and those on low incomes. It is they who are feeling the pain, not Michael O'Leary and others like him.

There are far more equitable ways of raising the money that will be taken through the property tax. We accept that moneys must be raised for the State so that services can be funded.

There was no sign of that in the party's budget.

We put forward a host of suggestions for cutting the cost of local government, as the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is well aware. Reform in that area requires cutting out some of the deadwood and reducing the salaries of those at the top and the numbers of directors of services and other senior staff, while at the same time increasing the number of front-line staff. That will save money in both the short and the long term.

There must be a reform of the tax system. We are calling on the Government to do what other countries do, such as introducing a wealth tax or a 48% tax rate on incomes over €100,000. These are some of the same proposals put forward by the Labour Party before it went into government. The Minister for Finance said last night that the family home tax has reference to ability to pay. In truth, there is no such clause or provision, which means the Minister either did not read his own Bill or misled the House. He went on to claim yesterday evening that he was satisfied that the poor and vulnerable would be protected under the terms of this tax. That simply is not true. Payment can be deferred but there is no waiver. Moreover, people who opt to kick the can down the road will be penalised to the tune of 4%. People are terrified of that situation. The poor and the vulnerable will pay the exact same as the Taoiseach and the millionaires in our society. The only option for households that cannot afford to pay the tax is to defer and suffer the 4% charge or ignore it and pay the 8% penalty thereafter.

This is an unjust tax which should be scrapped. What is required instead is a system of progressive taxation. In the meantime, however, the family home tax must be repealed. People cannot wait until the next general election before that is done. I appeal to Deputies on the other side of the House to put their feelings of loyalty to the Government to one side and to vote for our Bill to progress to Committee Stage.

The first rule of any tax should be the ability to pay. Some weeks ago I spoke to a man who is at breaking point. He has debts of some €20,000 arising from a collapsed business and a mortgage which was approximately €160,000 several years ago and on which he has been unable to make repayments. His business debts have increased to €30,000 while the mortgage has gone up to €190,000 as a result of his failure to make payments. When he purchased his home, which is in negative equity, he paid tens of thousands in stamp duty. He and his wife are unemployed and he has two children who are students. This individual is faced with a debt mountain which he has no prospect of clearing. Yet the Government's response to people like him is to impose yet another charge they cannot hope to pay on top of existing unsustainable debt.

If that individual is in receipt of mortgage interest supplement he would have been exempt from the charge last year.

I met a couple last week, of whom one has lost his job and the other is working 15 hours per week. For one week out of every month they have absolutely no money. In the winter, for example, they cannot afford heating for one week in every four. One of their children has asthma and each month they have to beg and borrow the money to bring the child 15 miles up the road.

Those people are fortunate they are not living in Northern Ireland.

If they did they would have access to free prescriptions and transport.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Tóibín, without interruption.

Some 180,000 mortgages in this State are in distress, the home owners in question living in terrible fear of repossession. Credit unions have indicated that 1.8 million people in this State are scraping for less than €100 at the end of the month. Hundreds of thousands are in negative equity and imprisoned by the unsustainable debt created by a collapsed market. What is the Government's solution to all of these issues? It has imposed an unaffordable property tax on people who simply cannot afford it.

What is Deputy Tóibín's solution?

I am happy to outline it if the Deputy will be patient. Some 400,000 people who had no job were given one in order magically to conjure up enough money to pay the property tax. People living in ghost estates who are obliged to be vigilant every day in ensuring their children do not fall into the holes where the paths should be are obliged to pay the tax. People who built houses on sites and paid €15,000 for services that were never provided are liable for the charge. People in local authority housing are obliged to pay it. Even if one accepts the principle of a property tax, it makes no sense to impose it at a time when earnings and incomes are completely ruptured from the collapse in property values. People are already dealing with cuts in child benefit, increased motor charges, carbon taxes, excise duties, prescription charges and VAT imposed by this Government, as well as the imminent introduction of water charges.

After affordability, the second rule of any tax is that individuals should only pay their fair share. Many people in this country have paid stamp duty on their homes. Anybody who paid €20,000, for example, has already contributed a multiple of the annual property tax charge. The third rule is that every tax should serve to improve society. The property tax, however, will make no difference to the provision of public services and will add nothing to the ability of local authorities to serve citizens.

A good proportion of the tax will go to pay unguaranteed, unsecured debt. The Fine Gael and Labour method of collecting this debt is actually brutal. The Government is prepared to loot salaries, social welfare payments and pensions. If the payment is deferred until the death of the individual, Fine Gael and Labour will come knocking on the door looking for the money from the struggling family. Contrast that method with the method that the Government has arranged for struggling families waiting for years for maintenance due to them. The cant we hear from the Government is that there is no alternative, this is the only way it can be done. Year on year, Sinn Féin has costed alternative budgets for this Government to take into consideration. Wealth taxes are successful in Europe. We have put forward a third rate of tax standardisation, discretionary taxes and many other suggestions.

The Government talks about the North. There is a book in Easons entitled, The Idiot’s Guide to Constitutional Politics which explains clearly at Junior Certificate level the difference between the situations in the North and South of Ireland. We do not have fiscal powers in the North of Ireland. We are doing our damnedest to get them back and it would be great if the Minister got off his arse and helped us as well.

Has Sinn Féin introduced any Bills up there to repeal rates?

In conclusion, what happened to the alter ego of Deputy Enda Kenny?

It is happy to spend them and claim the credit.

The Opposition alter ego of Deputy Enda Kenny said "It is morally unjust and unfair to tax a person's home and by so doing grind him into the ground." We are seeing a flip-flop Taoiseach who makes a habit of saying one thing in opposition and doing the opposite in government.

Sinn Féin is absolutely opposed to taxing the family home and when in government we will repeal this draconian and blatantly unfair tax. The idea of taxing the family home is, by any stretch of the imagination, bad economic policy. In the current climate where almost 500,000 people are out of work and one in four mortgages is in distress, this tax makes no sense. Indeed, this tax is further evidence of the lengths that Fine Gael and Labour, and Fianna Fáil before them, will go to in order to keep their monetary masters in the ECB and the IMF happy.

The real import of this tax is that it imposes even more hardship on ordinary people who are already stretched to the limits of their financial capabilities. The policies of austerity and the neoliberal political project that accompanies it have destroyed the economic and social fabric of this country. This Government responds with even more savage cuts to welfare, cuts to mobility allowances, cuts in home-help hours, cuts to youth services in already disadvantaged areas, cuts to special needs assistants and cuts to vital educational services for Travellers who already experience institutional discrimination. We are now in a situation where the policies of austerity so beloved of this Government mean that we have an entire public service, be it health, public housing, transport or education, that is being dismantled at a time when now more than ever ordinary people depend on the State for the provision of public goods and services. A state that cannot provide for its own people, that cannot and will not invest in its own society is by any standards, a failed state.

This Government has led us down a cul-de-sac and only a dramatic shift in policy will alter this situation. Yet we are told repeatedly that there are no options, that banks have to be bailed out and that austerity is the only show in town in terms of economic recovery. Sinn Féin rejects this flawed analysis as do the vast majority of people in Ireland and right across Europe. There are alternatives - it does not have to be like this.

That, however, would mean putting the people first and making political decisions that this Government that operates in the interest of the wealthy and the business classes has repeatedly refused to take. For example, by just clamping down on black market and false declarations the Government would raise €100 million. A 1% tax on wealth over €1 million would raise €800 million. The Government could, if it wanted to, apply PRSI to rental income and this alone would raise €20 million for the Exchequer. A 5% tax on shop, course and on-line gambling would raise a further €243.5 million. In terms of education, Fine Gael and Labour could raise €22 million over a five-year period by simply bringing an end to the State subsidy of private education. It is not right, just, or fair that the State is propping up an elitist system with public money that is urgently needed for children in State schools. In terms of health the Government could and should apply the full cost of private care in public hospitals. This would produce a saving of €432.5 million. It could deliver further savings by implementing generic substitution of branded medicines. The list goes on and on. It could cap Government salaries at €100,000, cap the pay of hospital consultants and introduce an emergency pay cap of €100,000 in the civil and public services for three years. This alone would produce a saving of €22 million. All of this requires political will and a genuine belief in the value of its own people and society.

More importantly, it requires a commitment to the health and well-being of all the people, not just the wealthy and the influential classes. It means that it has to have a genuine interest in the future prosperity of the young people who today have no other option but to emigrate in their thousands to Australia and Canada. In the final analysis it means putting Ireland's interests before the interests of faceless European bureaucrats and a pampered and well-connected home grown business class. Fine Gael can blather on all it likes about Sinn Féin in government in Stormont, an entity which does not control its own purse strings, but the fact remains that the policies of this Government are wreaking havoc on the lives and futures of people in every corner of the country.

Many people, not just Sinn Féin Deputies or supporters, believe this tax is regressive, unfair and wrong and that it will create genuine hardship among people in the community. We know this crippling tax was the brainchild of the Fianna Fáil-Green Administration which crashed our economy, but this Government has passionately advocated in favour of this new tax and determinedly pushed ahead with its implementation. This tax is being pushed even though it makes no economic sense and hurts those on low incomes. There is common agreement that one in four mortgage holders are in mortgage distress and many others are stuck in homes whose value has dropped and on which they all paid large sums in stamp duty to the State and this Government wants more.

Our domestic economy is in stagnation. This tax will reduce disposable incomes and have a negative effect on consumer spending and, in turn, jobs. Many people will pay this tax, have paid this tax, but not because they agree with it. They have no choice. Revenue now has the power to raid pensions, social welfare payments and PAYE workers' incomes directly. That is a fact. How are individuals and families going to pay this tax? We know that elderly people are already going to bed earlier to reduce bills, families are skipping a meal or buying cheap cuts or no meat or fish on certain days, turning the heating on later or not turning it on at all. If this tax is implemented families will spend less on their weekly shopping because they have less. That is the concern I have.

The wealthy can afford to give more but we know from Government budgets that this is unlikely to happen. The wealthy are destined for more rewards. We hear Ministers on radio saying that they must reward the entrepreneurs and the wealthy but at the same time they are cutting the means of people who are at the end of their tether because they have no more money. Intimidated people will be forced to skip other bills because of this tax. The organisations that deal with people in these situations believe this new tax will lead to a deepening of fuel and child poverty. In 2012 a total of 20,000 people had their gas and electricity cut off because they could not pay. This figure will rapidly increase if this tax is pursued. We believe that there are alternatives to this tax.

The lack of realistic exemptions shows the arbitrary and cruel nature of this tax. The Minister for Finance referred to income thresholds of €15,000 and €25,000, but this is just kicking the can down the road, as Deputy Brian Stanley said.

The Government claims it has no choice but to place the blame at the door of Fianna Fáil and the troika. The troika wants this money, but it has told my party that ultimately this is the Government’s choice. There are alternatives. A 1% tax on net wealth could bring in €800 million. The Minister for Finance estimated the yield would be €500 million, but the Government has turned its back on these alternatives. It is only interested in implementing austerity at all costs.

It was interesting tonight to be lectured by Blueshirts about not being socialists. It was very funny.

Is that now the level of the Deputy’s debate?

He should go back to the ink bottle. Go back to the ink cartridges.

It is bizarre to have the right wing in this Parliament lecturing us about bringing forward alternatives such as wealth taxes.

The Deputy is a funny guy.

What is even funnier is that those in the Labour Party who believe they are socialists also lectured us for not coming up with alternatives when we brought forward a more fair and progressive tax, a wealth tax. It is also very funny that those who call themselves the United Ireland Party, that is, Fine Gael, just in case Members opposite have forgotten.

As opposed to the united Ireland for the slow learners opposite.

One of the component parts of the Fine Gael Party when it was set up was Southern Unionists. It was interesting to hear the honourable Member for Kildare North, Deputy Anthony Lawlor, speak about the North. It is great to see that Fine Gael and the Labour Party are beginning to take an interest in the Six Counties that have been occupied.

As if Sinn Féin has a monopoly.

They, with Fianna Fáil, have ignored the Six Counties since the foundation of the State. If they had the courage of their convictions, they would contest every single seat on the island. However, they will not because they are chicken. They are not willing to bring forward proposals at local authority or Assembly level.

Will the Deputy, please, deal with the property tax Bill?

Yes, but we are asking if they will come to the North to introduce some taxes that their Unionist colleagues might want to support.

Sinn Féin has brought forward a reasonable proposal with the Bill, but it has been rejected, without even an examination taking place. The silliness of this Parliament is that one is restricted in publishing Bills that could involve a charge on the Exchequer. That is why we cannot have our wealth tax proposals in the Bills Office. They are available on the Sinn Féin website, if anyone is interested in seeing the alternative.

I am not just going to have a go at Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Last night I admired the brass neck of Fianna Fáil in giving out about property tax when it wanted to introduce it in the first place.

That is the first true statement the Deputy has made all night.

Then it had the gall to accuse Sinn Féin of having its figures wrong. Look at the legacies that party has produced from the abuse of figures in the past. In fact, our figures were not wrong. The figures quoted by Deputy Michael McGrath were correct, as they had come from the Minister for Finance. If he has a problem with them, he should talk to the Minister, not us.

I want to pay my taxes.

I am sure that is a big surprise to Deputy Gerry Adams. One can table any motion one likes about abolishing taxes, but it is human nature that no one wants to pay taxes, least of all a new tax.

No, I want to pay my taxes.

We want a fair tax.

The Minister is wrong.

The options are very limited when one is in a troika agreement and our economic sovereignty was ceded by our predecessors. It is not easy to ask the people for a further contribution to bail us out, but that is what we have to do to retrieve the economic situation we inherited. I would have expected Sinn Féin to, at least, show some consistency on taxation. It is asking us to abolish a tax on this part of the island which it is imposing on the people of Northern Ireland. That is hypocrisy. It wants more taxes on work in this jurisdiction, but it does not want to broaden the tax base.

Of course, we do.

That is so-called socialism. Members opposite must be the only ones who call themselves socialists who do not want to impose taxes on property.

Earth to Minister Hogan - please come in.

Sinn Féin wishes to abolish taxes in this jurisdiction that it is prepared to stand over in the North of Ireland.

Regarding the household charge, to Deputy Brian Stanley’s credit, he did not tell his constituents not to register for the charge. However, some of his colleagues did.

No, that is not the case.

That is not correct.

The Minister is wrong.

He is wrong again.

Will Members opposite please restrain themselves?

I must compliment Deputy Mary Lou McDonald as she said that at least people should pay the property tax as it was the law of the land.

I am surprised the other so-called socialists, Deputies Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett, are not in the Chamber. In the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area 90.53% of those liable for the household charge paid it. I am not surprised Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is not supporting the Sinn Féin Bill. In the Dublin City Council area, where Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh has campaigned heavily against the household charge, up to 80% have paid it.

Up to 20% of them are living in local authority houses.

Sinn Féin is out of sync with the electorate. In spite of their personal financial difficulties, the people have rejected the Sinn Féin campaign and have instead registered for the household charge. They have signed up as real patriots.

That is not right.

(Interruptions).

Will Members opposite please quieten down? There are three more Sinn Féin speakers and they can have their say then.

These are the people who want to make a real contribution in a modest way towards getting us out of the financial difficulties in which we find ourselves. These are the real patriots who want to restore our economic sovereignty which our predecessors, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, frittered away, particularly Fianna Fáil. Thanks to the responsible approach taken by a great majority of householders, I consider the experience people have had to be a significant success, particularly as the charge was introduced from a standing start and without a database. Deputy Brian Stanley will agree that it is important to have an independent source of income at local level to meet the priorities of all local authorities in the same way one has in Northern Ireland.

Do not speak for me.

I expect the local property tax to have multiple benefits, including providing a more sustainable and resilient system of funding for local government. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil want to impose more income taxes on ordinary workers.

No, we want to impose them on rich workers.

We mean people in the Minister's salary range.

They do not want to broaden the base, including income tax. Sinn Féin and other socialists should not be hypocritical. In opposing the local property tax they are leading unfortunate low-paid individuals and unfortunate persons on social welfare payments into penalties and fines through advocating non-compliance with the law and non-payment of a tax. Meanwhile, on their salaries, they will have the local property tax deducted at source. They have the luxury of not having to worry about that which ordinary folk do not have. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald has taken the responsible approach in telling people to comply with the law and not to be hypocritical.

I am asking the Minister to repeal his lousy tax.

Can we have silence for the leader of Sinn Féin, please?

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

I do my best for the Deputy.

If the matter were not so serious, it would be very funny.

The Finance (Local Property Tax Repeal) Bill is about lifting the burden of this unfair family home tax from families and households and replacing it with alternative measures to raise taxes, including a wealth tax. It is about undoing one of many bad policy decisions taken by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the past two years. Fine Gael and the Labour Party were elected to undo the damage caused by Fianna Fáil, but they have instead chosen to implement Fianna Fáil policies. This has led to greater inequality, poverty and disadvantage. This week the cuts to the respite care grant will hit 77,000 of our most vulnerable citizens. Emigration and unemployment are at record levels, especially among young people. Public services, particularly health, are in crisis, with further cuts to be imposed this year.

The economy, particularly the domestic economy, is flatlined and, on top of all that, the family home tax is being imposed on citizens.
I listened last night and tonight to Fine Gael and Labour Deputies trying to defend this tax on the family home. They sought to do it, if we could believe this, and I do not believe that they believe this, by comparing-----

With the district home tax in the North.

-----it with the domestic rates system in the North. They must know this and if they do not-----

We have it here.

Deputy Lawlor, I will not ask you a second time to refrain.

Sorry, Ceann Comhairle.

-----they should take a run up the road and they will see, for example, that rates in the North cover a range of public services, including education - those who live there do not pay for school books, emergency services or the public health service. There are no prescription charges, no private bin collection charges, no road tolls, and water and sewerage services and even septic tank services are provided.

The Deputy's party blames Westminster for collecting it but it is happy to spend it.

The Deputies opposite also know that Sinn Féin blocked water charges in the North for which the rates in the Six Counties pay. Of course there are inefficiencies in the services but the rationale the Minister gave for this family home tax was that the big boys made us do it-----

The Deputy is saying that.

The Minister is noting the people with school books, emergency services and prescription charges. He said the troika-----

The Deputy is saying that.

Did Deputy Lawlor not hear me?

-----made us do it.

The Deputy is saying that Westminster is saying that. He is blaming Westminster for doing that.

Westminster is a bit like the troika.

Before the Government parties came into office they said that they opposed this property tax. It takes no account of ability to pay or of those in negative equity; and it ignores the fact that one in four mortgage holders is in mortgage distress or the many others stuck in homes whose value has dropped and on which they have paid huge stamp duty.

It is a tax that was proposed by Fianna Fáil and now, as we see, it is being implemented by their brothers and sisters in arms, Fine Gael and Labour.

You would want to watch that one, Gerry.

The Government has also ensured that Revenue has the means to take this tax irrespective of the individual or family circumstances. Let the big bankers, the big developers and the speculators off free, award its policy advisers exorbitant, high salaries-----

Priory Hall is not-----

-----but deduct the tax from people's social welfare benefits, from their wages, their bank accounts and even from their credit union accounts. This is the most despicable type of going after-----

Stay away from the banks.

-----those who cannot afford it. What we have seen - it will continue to be the case, and I take no satisfaction in saying this - is that more and more people are being driven further and further into debt.

There are alternative measures that the Government could have taken, including the introduction of a wealth tax on all property, liquid and assets, above a certain net wealth. Why could they not do that?

Sure the Deputy does not want property tax.

Why could it not levy a 1% wealth tax on all net wealth over €1 million with certain exclusions?

The Deputy does not want a property tax.

It would be based on net wealth which takes into account mortgages and loans and it protects struggling families.

Thank you, Deputy.

Sin é. Fine Gael and Labour had a choice and once again they made the wrong choice and the people will pay.

I am glad Deputies Coffey and Lawlor are present. I listened to their contributions earlier and in every second sentence of his contribution Deputy Lawlor said the clowns-----

No. I said the chameleons.

The Deputy had his say and he should let the Deputy in possession reply. It is a debating Chamber.

Let him tell the truth.

The comedians? That is fair enough.

It might be the first time.

I would not blame the Deputy for using the term because sometimes this place is a bit of a circus and perhaps they are clowns in here. There are puppet masters and puppets and we all know who the puppet masters and the puppets are.

I was very interested in Deputy Coffey's contribution. He described this tax as a progressive measure. I do not know what planet he is living on but he is not living on planet earth if he thinks this tax is progressive. The State recognises that people who have lost their jobs do not have the financial means to support themselves and it steps in with financial intervention through social protection and assists those people. The State, with one hand, gives assistance over the counter to the most vulnerable people in society because it recognises they are unable to provide for themselves but it dips the other hand into their pockets to take back that assistance through a property tax. There is nothing progressive about that. That is regressive, disgraceful and despicable.

Deputy Coffey also said that this legislation was populist and Deputy Mitchell O'Connor criticised our tabling this legislation as being a waste of time. This is the place one tables legislation. She said that six months ago legislation was brought in to impose a property tax on the family home and that this Bill was a waste of time. I do not consider any legislation that is brought in and debated in this House as being a waste of time. That is what this institution is supposed to be for.

Deputy Coffey also said that it was easy for us in opposition to produce legislation like this. It was easy for us to be populist, to say what was popular because we would not have to back it up. He, as a backbench Government Deputy and his colleagues in Cabinet have to take the hard decisions, but that is the wrong debate. It is not about easy decisions and hard decisions, it is about right decisions and wrong decisions. The right decision in terms of regaining our economic sovereignty is to ask those who can pay more to do that. The wrong decision is to ask those who have nothing else to give to give more.

Deputy Áine Collins in her contribution said that two and half years ago when this Government came to power this State was on the verge of running out of money and thankfully, according to her, through the initiatives, policies and the legislation that this Government has brought in the State is now in a better financial position. What she failed to say is that every single week and month families across this State are indeed running out money. It is not something that may happen or will happen, it does happen.

A report published today on the education sector showed that 20% of our children go to school hungry. That is the reality. There is nothing progressive about this taxation. There is nothing easy about tabling legislation to repeal it. This measure is regressive and the legislation to repeal it is the right thing to do. Perhaps Deputy Coffey needs to look in a mirror and ask himself who he is representing. Is it the people who elected him-----

Do not worry about me at all.

The Deputy is over his time and he is taking time from his colleague.

-----or is it the person who is looking back at him?

I represent working class people as well and I represent them well in government.

Working class people - that is fair enough.

Remember the moment the Members opposite sat down on the Government benches at last after all the years out in the wilderness. At last they got their chance. The people had rejected with gusto Fianna Fáil for its bankruptcy of this State. They would have felt that was a moment of hope, a moment of great change. That was the rhetoric and that was the language that was used. Of all the cuts they brought in and all the promises they broke, what I find particularly unforgivable, as they sit on the Government side, is the intentional strategy they have to tell the people that there are no choices, no alternatives, no hope and no way other than this austerity that they have chosen.

The Government will not fool us because we have sat with the troika and asked them what the challenge is. The troika has said it is only interested in deficit reduction in the coming years, but how we get there is entirely in our hands. The Government makes choices. It chooses every time to let the very wealthy in this State and those from overseas who come to this State off the hook. They say to the highly paid every time to stay where they are because everything is hunky dory. That is the choice the Government has made. It has decided against all economic logic to take €500 million, mostly through cuts, from low to middle-income people who spend money in the economy.

I do not think those on the Government side are stupid. They talk to businesses in their communities. They must see that the economy desperately needs a lift, stimulus, hope and positivity, yet they continue to take more. Where is the logic? There is a crazy situation whereby the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, gives speeches about an end to austerity and our President, Michael D. Higgins, goes to Europe and says things that are absolutely right, and those on the Government side all say he is absolutely right. What the hell are they at? One minute they tell us that we have to go through austerity, that we must have the household tax and that we cannot tax the wealthy because, God forbid, they would run a million miles if we ever asked them to pay their fair share, while on the other hand they talk about an end to austerity. It is almost like two different people or mindsets. When will we see an end to austerity?

Then they come to us and talk about alternatives. We give the Government alternatives budget after budget, fully costed by the Department of Finance. What does the Government need? Some €365 million could be saved by implementing a third rate of tax on the highly paid. The Government could raise hundreds of millions from a wealth tax on the assets of the very wealthy who are here. It could raise hundreds of millions if it brought in standardised discretionary tax rates. I could go on and on. The Government makes choices. In the case of those in Fine Gael, it is no surprise. They always represented the big house and always looked after those in it. Now they have followed Fianna Fáil and sucked the hope out of our people again, but the people are waiting for them in the long grass.

We are taxing them.

The Government can be sure of this: it may have forced the hound-dogs of Revenue onto the people and brought in the legislation, and the people might be paying the tax reluctantly now, but they will not be fooled.

How does one call a hound-dog?

They will have their say, and the smirks will be wiped off the Government faces something beautiful. I look forward to that day.

Tiocfaidh ár lá.

I look forward to the day of retribution when all the hope and all the lies those in government told and all the promises they broke come back to kick them in the backside. They have it coming to them in a big way.

Sinn Féin would send the troika home.

Here is the final mix.

You are over time, Deputy.

I understand Fine Gael, and we know all about those in Fianna Fáil who say that we cannot pay this tax now but they have no alternatives and no commitments.

The Deputy has all the bluster but no solutions.

Anyway, what the hell is going on with the Labour Party? A documentary has been made called "Labour's Way". It reminds every Labour Party member of the great mistakes they made in the past, including being the buttress to right-wing Fine Gael Governments that imposed austerity. Here they are again making the same mistakes. Those in government have choices. They should stop the nonsense, stop trying to suck the hope from our people and do the right thing. If they do not, they should have no doubt: they will meet the same fate as Fianna Fáil.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 49; Níl, 81.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Walsh, Brian.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Pearse Doherty; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.
Question declared lost.