asked the Minister for the Environment if he will abolish the collection of rates on GAA club rooms, community centres and all areas providing recreation facilities for our youth.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Rates Relief on Youth Facilities.
Community centres and youth recreational facilities, where they serve broadly-based community purposes, may qualify for rates relief on the basis of their use as "community halls" within the meaning of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1978. The decision as to whether a particular premises qualifies for relief is a matter for the local authority concerned, subject to a right of appeal by an aggrieved person to the District Court.
Is the Minister aware that some community centres and clubs providing these facilities for young people are being asked to pay rates? Since these premises have been built by local labour and in many instances without State help, would the Minister not agree that rates are an unfair imposition on them? In these circumstances would he have the matter examined with a view to the waiving of rates in these cases?
The Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1978, defined a community hall as being a hall or similar building other than the premises of a registered club, that is, one with a bar, which is not used for profit or gain but which is used for social and recreational purposes by inhabitants of the locality generally. It is open to the operators of any hall to apply to the local authority to be included within that definition for the purpose of waiver of rates. The local authority make a decision one way or the other, but if they decide against a waiver the trustees of the hall may, if they wish, appeal to the District Court.
May we take it, then, that where a group are operating a centre of this kind and are not making a profit, they are not liable for rates so long as they can prove to the local authority that they are not making a profit?
I have told the Deputy that the Act defines community halls and that it is open to the trustees of any hall who think they qualify within that definition to apply to the local authority for waiver of rates. It is a matter then for the local authority to decide whether rates should be waived. If they decide against the applicants it is open to them to go to the District Court in order to have the court determine whether the hall comes within the definition as laid down in the Act.
Therefore it is a matter for a local authority to decide whether rates should be imposed in any case. From my knowledge of local authorities they will keep within the law and it is hardly likely that club or community centre operators would take an action against a local authority in a matter of this kind.
A decision as to whether a premises qualify for relief is a matter for the local authority concerned. It is their business in the first instance. People who consider themselves to qualify within the definition as laid down in the Act should apply to the local authority for a decision regarding the payment or otherwise of rates. There is provision for an appeal to the District Court against a decision.
I shall allow a final supplementary on this question.
But is it not the position that an appeal to the District Court is no guarantee that the local authority will waive the rates?
That is so.
Would the Minister agree that the Act is rather rigid and, consequently, would he review it in an effort to eliminate this problem, a problem experienced by many community centre trustees?
The Act is deliberately rigid. Obviously, we would not wish to derate premises that were used for profit or gain and therefore, there must be no looseness in this regard. If the District Court decides on appeal that this qualifies for definition as a community hall, then the local authorities will waive the rates.