Local Government (Household Charge) Bill 2011: Committee Stage

SECTION 1

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

""Act of 1978" means the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1978;".

Ós rud é go bhfuil Gaeilge ag formhór a bhfuil i láthair labharfaidh mé as Gaeilge, má tá sé sin ceart go leor.

Sa chéad leasú atá molta againn táimid ag iarraidh soiléiriúó thaobh na míniúchán atá luaite san mBille, mar is Bille fíor-thábhachtach é seo, ina bhfuil an Rialtas ag iarraidh costas, nó mar a deirimid-ne cáin bhreise, a chur anuas ar mhuintir na tíre. Ba cheart go mbeadh an Bille soiléir go hiomlán faoi na hAchtanna ar fad atá i gceist. Tugaimid faoi deara nach bhfuil Acht 1978 luaite ins an míniúchán. Sílim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go ndéanfaí an leasú seo chun soiléiriú go gciallaíonn "Acht 1978" an t-Acht Rialtais Áitiúil (Forálacha Airgeadais) 1978.

Beidh cáin bhreise de €100 in aghaidh an teaghlaigh in aghaidh na bliana. I gcomhthéacs na costas breise atá buailte ar dhaoine le cúpla lá anuas tá sééagcórach agus iomlán mícheart a leithéid de chostas a chur anuas ar dhaoine. Tá sé i gceist againn leasaithe a chur chun cinn chun na cásanna éagsúla a mhíniúó thaobh na ndaoine atá fágtha as an áireamh maidir le díolúintí agus mar sin de. Ní mór sin a thógáil i gcomhthéacs na n-Achtanna ar fad a bhí luaite roimhe seo.

Ni cosúil go bhfuil na leasaithe sin luaite in Acht 1978. Bheadh sé tábhachtach go gcuirfí Acht 1978 san áireamh le gur féidir aon leasú a molfar inniu a chur san áireamh chomh maith céanna. Beimid ag moladh leasaithe a bhaineann leis an gcostas féin, leis an dream atá i dteideal an chostais seo a íoc agus an dream nach bhfuil i dteideal é a íoc. Tiocfaidh mé ar aghaidh leis na pointí sin níos faide anonn nuair a pléifear na leasaithe eile.

Ar an mbuncheist seo, ba cheart go mbeadh an t-Acht seo luaite ins an míniúchán.

An bhfuil seo riachtanach? Tá sé intuigthe in Acht 1992. Mar sin an bhfuil sé riachtanach san mBille seo? Is it necessary?

Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall an cheist a fhreagairt. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil an díospóireacht seo ar siúl tré Ghaeilge ach níl foclóir s'agamsa maith go leor don ábhar seo.

Go raibh maith ag an Seanadóir as an leasú a chur romhainn.

My officials have been in contact with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. I am informed this is standard drafting procedure. The reference to the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1978, appears once in the text of the Bill and once regarding the amendment of the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009. Normally, when two or more references to an Act are contained in the main text of a Bill, there is a definition of the Act concerned inserted into the interpretation section of the Bill.

Sa chás seo, where there are two references to the Act concerned, one is contained in the main body of the Bill and the other is for the purposes of an insertion in the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009. As such, the reference to the 1978 Act would be in two separate pieces of legislation.

I am informed by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel that from a drafting point of view, inserting a provision along the lines suggested would indicate to a reader of the legislation that there is another reference to the 1978 Act in the main body of the Bill. Ní féidir liom de thairbhe na comhairle sin tacú leis an rún atá molta ag an Seanadóir sa leasú seo.

Táimid buíoch don Aire Stáit as ucht an soiléirithe sin. Tuigimid na pointí atá sé ag déanamh agus is ar mhaithe le soiléireacht a bhíomar ag iarraidh an rud sin a chur ann mar níor mhaith linn go mbeadh doiléire ag an phointe seo mar tá sé fíor-thábhachtach ar cheist chomh tábhachtach leis seo go dtuigfeadh gach duine céard go díreach a bheadh i gceist. Glacaimid le focal an Aire Stáit agus le treoir ó na dréachtóirí parlaiminte. Ní chuirfimid an leasú chun vóta.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2

Amendments Nos. 2 and 9 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

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

"(f) homes purchased under the Affordable Housing scheme;

(g) homes on which stamp duty has been paid from January 1st 2004 up unto December 31st 2011;

(h) homes purchased through the Shared Ownership Scheme.”.

The amendment relates to the definitions set out in section 2. Its purpose is to have a number of categories of home included in the definition of properties which may be exempt under the household charge legislation. While I appreciate it may have been preferable to submit the amendment to the section relating to exemptions, given the specific nature of the types of properties provided for in the amendment and the ownership pertaining to these types of properties, we concluded that section 2 would be the more relevant section to make the amendment because it includes the definition of residential property.

The amendment proposes to have homes purchased under the affordable housing scheme and homes on which stamp duty was paid from 1 January 2004 up to the present day included in the subsection. These are the households experiencing most of the burden of mortgage difficulties. The issue of negative equity also arises and is addressed in later amendments. Anyone who bought or built a property from early 2004 onwards did so on the basis that credit was widely available. Having paid stamp duty, they are not in negative equity. I can cite examples of people who purchased properties for €400,000 and €500,000 and paid stamp duty of between €25,000 and €30,000. People in this category are in major financial difficulty and should be exempt from the household charge. In addition, homes purchased through the local authority shared ownership scheme should be exempt from the charge and should not be defined as residential property in this section.

People purchased properties under the affordable housing scheme because local authorities allowed them to access money at a reduced cost on the basis that they could not afford housing on the open market. The three categories of housing referred to in the amendment should be exempt from the household charge and should be defined as non-residential for the purposes of the section. We are willing to accept an amendment under the exemption clause on Committee Stage or Report Stage if the Minister is willing to accept such an amendment.

I strongly support the amendment as it addresses the position of very vulnerable people. The Minister of State was present when I made similar points on Second Stage. In particular, I addressed myself to the issue of the affordable housing schemes under which houses, homes or apartments were made available to people, including many who were in very valuable professions such as nurses, gardaí and carers. These professions have suffered considerable cutbacks in their income since it was deemed appropriate by the local authorities that housing should be made available to them at less than what was then deemed to be the market rate and on the basis of their circumstances, low income and high price of houses. The purchasers of housing under the schemes paid amounts which are now considerably in excess of the market value of their homes. They are in a very difficult position and there is a clear argument for exempting those who were deemed to be appropriate recipients of affordable housing. While I understand the Government is in financial difficulties, people who purchased homes under the affordable housing scheme should be exempt.

I also accept the argument made by Senator Ó Domhnaill on the proposed paragraph (g), which refers to people who paid stamp duty during a certain period and have been badly caught in the property bubble. I also have some sympathy with those who purchased homes under the shared ownership scheme. The area about which I know most and, therefore, on which I make my strongest argument relates to those who purchased homes under the affordable housing scheme. I hope the Minister of State will be able to assume a position of some flexibility in this regard. I will certainly support the amendment. As I stated, I referred to this matter at some length on Second Stage. I hope the Minister of State has been softened up to some degree on the matter.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: I thank the Minister of State for facilitating our request to table amendments yesterday. This is a reasonable amendment. When I raised this matter with the former Minister of State, Deputy Willie Penrose, whose portfolio was housing, he had a clear understanding of my concern. A major mortgage arrears problem has arisen among those who purchased their homes under the affordable housing and shared ownership schemes. More than 18.5% of houses in Fingal which were purchased under the affordable homes scheme are in arrears. Unfortunately, local authorities and the Housing Finance Agency are not covered under the statutory code of conduct on mortgage arrears. This is causing a major problem. While I do not wish to stray from the point, I hope this matter will be given serious consideration when a new Minister of State is appointed to replace Deputy Penrose. Perhaps the Minister of State will raise it with the Minister because county councils are behaving worse than the banks in many respects.

As Senators Norris and Ó Domhnaill noted, those who purchased under the shared ownership and affordable housing schemes did so because their incomes were so low as to preclude them from getting on the property ladder. Those who purchased under the shared ownership scheme are already in negative equity because the equity amount in the local authority increased over the term. A major mortgage arrears problem has also arisen in this area. This may be a separate issue but it drives home the reason an exemption should be provided for the individuals referred to in the amendment.

The previous Government reduced stamp duty to 1% on all property transactions. Many people missed the boat between 2004 and 2008 and paid substantial stamp duty fees. It can be easily demonstrated through the Land Registry and Revenue who paid stamp duty during the period in question. I welcome the Government announcement to increase mortgage interest relief to 30% for people who bought their first home between 2004 and 2008. Exempting this group from the household charge would be a logical extension of yesterday's measure. Having given out previously in the House about the Government's failure to make good on its commitment on mortgage interest relief, I commend it on fulfilling the promise Fine Gael gave in its election manifesto. If one follows the logic of yesterday's measure, namely, that those who purchased homes between 2004 and 2008 were, in the main, more adversely affected than others by the mortgage crisis and property crash, by extension one will exempt them from the charge. This is a logical amendment which stacks up in terms of Government policy and the changes introduced in recent days. I ask the Minister of State to accept it.

Tá sé ráite againn go bhfuilimid i gcoinne an flat rate charge i bprionsabal mar níl sé féaráilte, tá sé iomlán éagórach sa chaoi go bhfuil séá chur i bhfeidhm. Ba chóir go mbeadh cáin mhaoine á baint ó dhaoine atá in ann í a íoc ach sa chomhthéacs go bhfuil sé i gceist, is cosúil, ag an Rialtas an Bille seo a chur tríd, táimid ag iarraidh damage limitation a dhéanamh go pointe áirithe. Sa chás sin táimid ag tacú leis an leasú atáá mholadh.

We in Sinn Féin are opposed to a flat tax, a point I made yesterday on the previous Stage. We do not promote this line but as a damage limitation exercise we support this amendment. I note it is linked with amendment No. 9 so Members might also look at that. In it we suggest the meaning given to a residential property, as outlined in section 2, "shall not be amended save by the Oireachtas". We suggest that if any change to that definition is proposed it must come back to the Houses of the Oireachtas in order that we do not give sweeping powers to a Minister in the future, one who might not be as understanding as the present Minister, or who might decide to take certain categories out of the exemption clause category.

In the current economic climate where so many families are struggling we do not know if the Government has grasped the seriousness of the situation. More people must be included in the waiver scheme — those arguments have been made. We agree that those who purchased houses under the affordable housing scheme should be taken into consideration as well as homes on which stamp duty has been paid, from 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2011, and those who purchased through the shared ownership scheme. That is very important because many of those people are in negative equity and cannot afford to pay their mortgages. Many of them have lost their jobs and will now suffer with the extra cutbacks, the water tax, the sewerage tax and all the extra charges such as that arising from losing money for school buses. We could continue. These young people who bought houses in the past ten years are really struggling. They have small familes and are suffering cutbacks in child income allowance.

Their situation must be taken into account when we consider this extra tax. It is a tax — it is not fair to call it a charge. If one charges people one gives them some sort of extra service. If I go somewhere and am charged for something I expect a service. There are no extra perks for anybody who pays this extra charge, as it is called. It is really an extra tax on people and therefore we support this amendment.

It is equally important, in regard to my party's amendment No. 9 in section 4, that the meaning, as outlined, will be amended only by the Oireachtas and that any proposed change must return to the Houses for us to discuss. We do not want Ministers of State taking categories of people, willy-nilly, in or out of the scheme. There needs to be debate on this point and it is unfortunate there has not been more debate on this Bill before now. It is going through the Houses quickly. The reason my party will push amendment No. 9 is to ensure that if any changes are to be made in eligibility for the waiver the relevant proposal must come before the Houses. We might even be able to suggest extra groupings to be taken into account.

This is a positive amendment that recognises that those who paid stamp duty between 2004 and especially during 2007-08, are the people who paid for the Celtic tiger. It was from them that taxes came. Now we are to land those people with an annual charge of €100. This point is very important. The previous Government set the precedent for giving them some kind of rebate or increase for their mortgage interest. I was glad to see the Government enhancing that yesterday but it was my party that recognised the principle. These people paid out a great deal of money and are now being asked to pay again. It is especially galling because a person who built and owns properties that have not been sold does not appear to be liable for property tax in any way. That is completely unjust and there does not appear to be any rationale to it. A property is a property. We are looking to tax properties, as will be discussed with the relevant section.

With houses bought under the affordable homes or shared ownership schemes, one is looking at very vulnerable people. Many of them are in a very peculiar and difficult form of negative equity. With all the clawbacks in place they are in a very difficult situation. Some people came after them, looked at the affordable homes scheme, decided it was too expensive and that they would buy on the open market instead or perhaps not buy at all.

The Government should accept this amendment. It should accept that these people funded us for many years. They are the people who paid the taxes that brought this country to the heights it reached. We should have had a proper taxation system. There are all kinds of allegations about the last Government but the fundamental mistake was that taxes were not levied appropriately. We relied too much on transactional taxes such as stamp duty, capital gains and capital acquisition taxes. We reduced income tax to too low a level and we did not have a property charge.

This Bill is part of the relevant correction. If we consider those people who bore the burden of taxation in those years we should give them, at least for a period, an option on the charge. I do not want the Minister of State to reply citing technical reasons. I do not know whether the word "homes" is defined in the Bill but we can return on Report Stage with a different version if that must be done. I support the spirit of this amendment.

I welcome the Minister of State. I refer to section 2(h) on the shared ownership scheme. I ask the Minister of State to look at that because a reasonable suggestion has been made. In section 3, on page 6, our Bill states that where a residential property is owned by two or more persons those persons shall be jointly liable to pay the household charge. If one takes that logically it would mean that 50-50 ownership is exactly what it says. The owner is both the local authority and the client. A charge of €50 each way would provide an even keel because full ownership is not in question. I ask for the Minister of State’s opinion.

The local authorities involved in shared ownership are not taking any of the brunt arising from the depreciation in value of the house. This would be one area in which we could point out the situation of a person who bought, at 50-50 status, in good faith. The value of the house has gone down while the local authority remains a bank in a way, given that the banks are now being asked to take a reasonable line on mortgages. Shared ownership may be a subject for another debate on another day in the House.

In regard to this point, it would be fair if the local authorities were to waive 50%. They are owners. We are dealing with section 2 but section 3 states that where a residential property is owned by two or more persons the local authority owns the house. Therefore, it should pay half the charge.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is becoming evident that this charge will place a major burden on people. For example, in a non-owner-occupied house who is liable — the owner or the tenant? If the owner is liable will the tenant become liable for the charge? There is already a fee of €200 for non-residential property and now another fee of €100 must be paid too, in addition to the septic tank charge of €50. It is becoming a very big burden for anybody who owns a house. It is only now becoming obvious what is happening. Ultimately, most landlords will transfer the money to their tenants because they will have no choice and the tenants will have that burden. Many landlords are carrying the non-residential fee and perhaps many of them will carry this charge too but it will reduce the return on houses while the cost of servicing the debt remains.

I refer to people who are in negative equity — what is their position? If they bought a house or apartment in Dublin for €300,000 which is now worth €160,000, will they also be liable for this yearly charge of €100? The situation is becoming very difficult. The only fair way to assess this would be to work out the valuation process and return to a way of equity. A millionaire lives in Ballsbridge; a widow lives on a small farm or in a cottage in Roscommon town. Both are liable for the charge of €100. This seems to be an impossible kind of legislation. In a sense it is like the poll tax in Britain except that in that case the number of persons in each house was counted. That was a very unpopular tax.

The public are really very quiet. They have been that way since Fine Gael and the Labour Party went into government. During our last period in government we were under siege.

They were so fed up.

Journalists inThe Irish Times advocated that Leinster House be stormed like the Bastille was. We were effectively run out of office. The Government is bringing in more charges every day of the week but everyone seems to be impressed. The Government seems to own The Irish Times. It is also well got in RTÉ to the extent the broadcaster had to ensure Seán Gallagher would not be let into Áras an Uachtaráin but one of their own many lefties.

The Senator should focus on the amendment.

I apologise for digressing. I am comparing the difficulties the previous Fianna Fáil Government had——

Will Senator Leyden please withdraw that statement?

What statement?

The statement that we had to have one of our own in the Áras.

Was he not a Labour Party candidate?

I beg your pardon, Senator Leyden. The people voted for President Higgins. I ask the Senator to withdraw that statement.

I beg your pardon, too.

We are not discussing the President.

Michael D. Higgins went forward as a Labour Party candidate. What is wrong with that? I gave him a very high preference vote for God's sake.

It is the inference made by the Senator that somehow we had to have one of our own and kept Mr. Seán Gallagher out of the Áras.

I was referring to RTÉ.

We are not discussing RTÉ or the presidency.

RTÉ had Pat Kenny on the "Front Line" programme making sure Seán Gallagher had a bad piece.

Senator Leyden is out of order and should stick to the amendment.

I am only trying to raise this issue.

On a point of order, it is certainly a tradition, if not part of the order of this House, that the office of presidency is exempt from comment, particularly unfavourable comment. As someone who stood in that election, I must say we could not possibly have a greater or more gracious President than the current incumbent. I do not believe for one minute it was RTÉ that got him in.

In the presence of veterans of the Vietnam War and Korean War and many other wars, I withdraw any inference about our President, Michael D. Higgins, of whom I am very fond. He lectured me 40 years ago and taught me much.

I am grateful for that.

We are not talking about the presidency. Is the amendment being pressed?

If the Minister is willing to accept these amendments to the exemptions from the charge, we will withdraw them and resubmit them on Report Stage. In the event we do not get a favourable outcome, we will have to press the amendment.

Ba mhaith liom, i dtosach, mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a mhol an leasú seo agus a nocht a dtuairimí air. Nuair a thagaim go dtí an Seanad bíonn díospóireacht an-mhaith ann i gcónaí. Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil an díospóireacht seo ar siúl mar Bhille bunúsach is ea an ceann seo.

These proposed amendments to section 2 would have the effect of excluding purchasers of houses under the affordable housing scheme and those who have purchased a residential property on which they paid stamp duty between 2004 and 2011 from the ambit of the household charge. This would in effect encompass a large number of homeowners. It is not considered appropriate in this context given the wide applicability of the charge to the majority of residential property in the State and the relatively modest nature of the household charge of €100 in 2012.

Those who have purchased affordable units, either under the 1999 affordable housing scheme or units provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, have received a discount on the market value of the dwelling when purchased. As such, it is difficult in the extreme to suggest such dwellings should benefit from an exemption from the household charge when owners of other residential property, some who may even be residing in the same estate are required to pay this charge.

For houses purchased under the shared ownership scheme, the housing authority concerned retains an ownership stake in the house until the shared ownership purchaser purchases the dwelling outright from the authority. In the meantime, the purchaser is effectively renting that portion of the dwelling that he or she does not own. As such, houses under the shared ownership scheme which remain partly owned by the housing authority are excluded from the household charge under section 2(b) as they remain vested in the housing authority until such time as the housing authority's ownership stake ceases.

This Bill provides for several exemptions to the household charge, including properties part of the trading stock of a business and have not been sold, occupied or the source of any income since their construction; properties vested in local authorities or voluntary and co-operative housing bodies for social housing, as making such properties liable would lead to a circular flow of income and be unnecessarily bureaucratic; properties owned by a Department or the Health Service Executive and used or let in the performance of their functions as, again, making such properties liable would lead to unnecessary circular administrative structures; properties to which commercial rates apply, as with the non-principal private residence. It is intended this charge would operate as an alternative to commercial rates. Accordingly, a property will be liable for either commercial rates or the household charge if it is a domestic property, but not both.

Exemption also applies to where a person is forced to vacate a property because of long-term mental or physical infirmity. This exemption was included in the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 as a compassionate measure intended to provide for elderly people who have no choice but to move out of their sole or main residence into a residential nursing home and in cases where a charity owns a property.

In addition to these exemptions, two important waivers will apply to the charge. The programme for Government commits to giving consideration to the impact that such a property tax would have on the number of households in mortgage distress. The Government, therefore, proposes to exclude from the household charge households in receipt of mortgage interest supplement from the Department of Social Protection. Mortgage interest supplement provides short-term support to help eligible households pay mortgage interest payments and has, as a condition of eligibility, that the household could afford the mortgage repayments when the mortgage commenced. In excess of 18,000 households will benefit from this waiver.

The Government also intends providing a waiver for households in certain categories of unfinished housing estates. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will set out the list of the estates to which the waiver will apply in regulations. This waiver will benefit residents of such estates as they work with other stakeholders in developing resolutions for these problematic developments. It is not proposed to provide for additional waivers or exemptions.

Regarding Senator Ó Clochartaigh's amendment to section 4, the Bill sets out the definition of residential property for the purposes of the household charge. Once enacted the definition cannot be amended without the obligation of amending legislation being passed. In these circumstances, it is considered the insertion of this proposed provision is not necessary. Accordingly, I cannot accept these amendments.

We welcome the exemption of shared ownership properties. We will, however, be resubmitting the amendments on Report Stage.

I hope there will be some degree of flexibility. There is just a little of casuistry in what the Minister said about the affordable housing scheme not qualifying for an exemption. While it may well be true that this scheme was intended to assist people, it has not and has actually placed many in difficulties. Those in the scheme are in possession of properties which are not worth anything like what they were when they were supposed to be affordable. The idea they have secured any permanent advantage is completely wrong.

I am aware of several people in the city of Dublin who were in professions badly hit such as nursing which while socially beneficial had small incomes. These incomes have already been raided by various taxes, impositions and levies. As I said on Second Stage, €100 may seem small to people with black bank accounts. To those with red bank accounts, it is a very large sum of money.

There is no doubt either that once this type of regime is installed, it is virtually impossible to reverse it and there is an inevitable tendency to increase such charges. No one believes this charge will stay at €100. We have another four budgets to go under the austerity scheme. Every time the Seanad returns to address this subject, the charge will have gone up. That is why we should consider, as carefully and as sensitively as possible, how we might protect the most vulnerable people. Among the latter, I include anybody who, by definition, was deemed to be an appropriate person to purchase affordable housing. The very ethos behind the scheme is that those who availed of it could not afford to buy homes without assistance. As a result of the collapse of the property market, that assistance has proven to be an encumbrance rather than an assistance. Those to whom I refer now own properties in respect of which they could get into debt if they decided to sell. I ask that consideration be given to this aspect of the matter.

One of the phrases used by the Minister of State in his explanation is "relatively modest". That phrase was also used yesterday and it has been employed on a number of occasions in respect of the different fees that are being introduced. What is the meaning of the phrase "relatively modest"? To what is it relative? As Senator Norris outlined, there are many families which are on very low incomes and for which €100 is not a relatively modest sum. In fact, it is quite a large sum for many. There is a concern — with which we will deal in respect of a later amendment — that the household charge could be increased.

In the context of waivers, there is a section in the Bill which stipulates that if a person dies, then the penalties will ostensibly be passed on to whomever inherits his or her estate. Will such individuals qualify for a waiver? If a parent dies, his or her house is passed on to his or her son or daughter. If said son or daughter is a member of one of the categories to which waivers will apply, will he or she automatically qualify for a waiver in respect of his or her deceased parent's house? This relates to a person's ability to pay. If my father, God forbid, were to pass away, his house would be passed on to me. If I were in one of the waiver categories, my income would not increase as a result of my inheriting the property because I could not sell it on. This matter may require examination because a person's ability to pay does not improve as a result of his or her inheriting a house. In many cases, those who inherit are hit with other duties and taxes which they are obliged to pay for making a capital gain.

Has consideration been given to this matter? If not, perhaps it could be examined prior to Report Stage. Would be it necessary, for example, to amend the legislation in respect of the category of people to which I refer? It is not clear, from subsequent sections, that said category is covered. I would welcome the Minister of State's observations on this matter.

If one got a house for nothing, one would subsequently be worth a great deal more.

Not if one could not sell it.

The Senator would not——

If one inherits a house after one's parent passes away, one might not be able to sell it.

There is a price on everything. I accept that the value of property has decreased by 50%.

Is the Senator speaking to the amendment or the section. Has the amendment been withdrawn?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I thank the Minister of State for confirming that those involved in shared ownership will be exempt. That is even better than the 50-50 arrangement to which I referred. It will be 100%. People should be made aware of the exemption categories because the Bill does not contain information in this regard. If a property is the subject of a 50-50 ownership arrangement, it will not be 100% vested in the Minister. The position is not clear. I am of the view that reference should be made in the Bill to buildings that are either vested or part vested in the Minister. Reference should also be made to shared ownership arrangements. Information on the exemption categories should certainly be circulated to people.

I have a fundamental difficulty with trading companies — even if the properties they own are empty — not being required to pay this charge. Either it is a property tax or it is not. If such companies own properties, why are they not required to pay the charge? I accept that there are exemptions in respect of certain unfinished estates. It would certainly be galling to live in such an estate. The estate in which I live comprises 20 houses and is unfinished. However, it does not appear to be unfinished. I do not understand why the owners of empty properties should not be obliged to pay the property charge. Why should householders who are obliged to pay bills left, right and centre also be obliged to pay this charge when trading companies which own residential companies are not subject to it? I accept that such companies might not be obtaining an income from their properties. This is a form of break for those who own trading companies and we should not be giving it to them if it is not also to be made available to those in other categories. What is being done here is wrong.

I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the position. I accept that some of these companies will not be able to pay. If they cannot do so, there is provision in the legislation for them to be pursued. We should at least impose a charge on properties such as those to which I refer in order that if one is ever sold, the State would benefit. I do not understand the rationale in respect of what is proposed in this section. I urge the Department to re-examine what is involved. If the NPPR does not apply to those to whom I refer, then it should also be reconsidered. I am not sure what is the position in this regard.

I thank Senators for their contributions in respect of the various issues raised. Senator Keane referred to clarity regarding the information relating to the charge. Such clarity will be provided in respect of those involved in shared ownership arrangements.

Senator Byrne referred to houses owned by trading companies or whatever which have never been occupied and in respect of which such companies have not obtained an income. There are many such properties and thousands of them are owned by NAMA. If the charge were imposed in respect of them, NAMA would owe the State a fortune.

Maidir leis na pointí a luaigh an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh, níl ach dhá shlí gur féidir le haon duine an díolúine a fháil. Ar an gcéad dul síos, caithfidh an teach a bheith suite in eastát faoi leith. We are dealing here with estates which are in an unfinished state and these come under categories 3 and 4. If a person inherited a house located in an unfinished estate, he or she would automatically qualify for the waiver. If an inheritor has already obtained a mortgage subsidy from the HSE in respect of his or her primary residence, he or she is only entitled to one such subsidy. Therefore, the subsidy would not apply in respect of a second home. I am not exactly sure of the position in this regard but the officials will clarify it for me.

The only other category which might be affected comprises people who do not have mortgages and who inherit properties from deceased relatives or whatever. Such individuals would have a responsibility for the mortgages on inherited properties and if they had an inability to pay and if the HSE decided that they would be covered, then they would not be obliged to pay the charge. I hope what I have said has provided some clarity.

An alternative to applying the full charge to the houses to which I refer would be to apply a charge to the property. In such circumstances, the €100 would build up each year until a house was sold and then the solicitor involved would be obliged to hand over the total amount at the end of the sale process. There is no good reason trading companies are being excluded. We are introducing an across-the-board property tax but we are excluding certain types of property. This matter should be reconsidered because the question of fairness arises. People, both rich and poor, are being hit and I do not understand why traders in residential properties — which is what builders and developers are — should be exempt from the charge. After all, they are not exempt from many other charges. If these traders state that they cannot afford to pay, then the charge should become one in respect of their properties. The latter is, of course, the position when it comes to other citizens. If the houses to which I refer were sold at some point in the future, the State would realise a return.

The Minister of State referred to NAMA. However, there is an exemption in respect of properties to which a statutory receiver has been appointed under NAMA. That is correct because if it were not the case, the money would just be coming into the State system and going straight back out again. However, the position with regard to the houses in question is different and the State should apply the charge to everyone across the board, and not just to those who live in their own homes. It appears that ordinary people are continually being hit.

I agree with my colleague. One must be sympathetic to companies which are in serious difficulties or whose affairs are being administered by NAMA. However, the principle the Minister of State enunciated is that they are deriving no financial profit.

I said they never obtained an income from the properties in question, which were never occupied.

If one puts aside the question it was never occupied, I am not sure that in the current circumstances it could be argued that persons in affordable housing derived a profit. They did not. In fact, they received a financial disadvantage because they were seduced by advertising and by a campaign. I was well aware of it because I had a number of friends, and, in fact, I think a distant member of my family, who got affordable housing.

Will Senator Norris be looking for one? I hope not on George's Street.

I was well aware of the fact that there was a sustained advertising campaign which stated it was to their advantage. The argument the Minister of State has advanced, that one should exempt companies because they derive no financial advantage from it, should also extend to those who got affordable housing. Whereas it was originally envisaged that they would receive a financial advantage, in much the same way no doubt as property developers envisaged that they would make a profit out of it, they both were wrong. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The affordable housing scheme must be looked at again.

The Minister of State stated it is a financial argument. He was fishing around as hard as he possibly could — he is a decent man — to look for financially sustainable arguments. At the end of the day, the crucial political element was that this was a significantly large proportion of the population who would be exempted and, for that reason, it would so substantially reduce the income from this that it would create some kind of budgetary difficulty. That is a different argument, one that should be suspended in light of the difficulty that could plainly occur for those within affordable housing who have suffered already through taking up affordable housing in addition to having their income substantially reduced.

I am glad my colleagues on this side of the House have decided to withdraw their amendment in this area and that it could be argued again on Report Stage tomorrow.

I do not want to labour the point. I am merely thinking of scenarios, in particular in rural areas, where there are houses from pre-mortgage times where persons would have built their homes bit by bit and would not have taken on large mortgages, or would have possibly paid off their mortgages and where there might be older parents living in those houses. There could be many in those rural areas who are in difficult financial circumstances. If a parent is deceased or passes away and the house reverts to someone through succession, it might be worth looking at a waiver if the person is in a situation where he or she cannot afford to pay an extra tax and the person does not have any extra income. It certainly is worth looking at. It should not be connected to having a mortgage on the house or an inability to repay a mortgage because there could be a scenario where there was never a mortgage on the house because it was built bit by bit in the 1960s and 1970s, or it might be an older house. It is an area to consider.

I have referred to rural areas but it need not necessarily refer to rural areas. I could refer to urban areas. Specifically, I am merely thinking of examples in my area where I could imagine that happening. There are households that really cannot afford to take on an extra charge like this, which is €100 a year to begin with. We do not know where it is going from there. Possibly, they would have one on their own house and then be lumbered with one on a second house, which they will not be able to sell and which might not be in great repair. They might be too strapped. It is certainly worth looking at a waiver in that situation.

On the general context of the Bill, the €100, to which Senator Leyden referred correctly, would appear to be unfair. I accept it relates more to section 3, which we will come to in a moment. It is inequitable for a person in a bed-sit in west Donegal to be charged €100 the same as those in mansions in any part of country valued at far in excess of €1 million. That was acknowledged, even by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, before the election. There is a different scenario now and we will go through that at the next stage.

Regarding properties that are under the control of NAMA which may be in liquidation or in bankruptcy proceedings and where the developers may be in financial difficulty, etc., these developers and the banks that gave the money are the cause of where we are at in this country. Whether they are in receivership, bankrupt or whatever else, we cannot justify socially on the basis of equity making those properties exempt but charging those on social welfare payments, medical cards, etc. It is incomprehensible to consider going down that road.

I appreciate where the Government is coming from on the exemptions listed in section 2(3)(a) and (b). I appreciate the State saying that it will not get the money anyway or it is charging itself in the long run, but it sends out the wrong message. Even if those companies that own the properties are in examinership, receivership, liquidation or are bankrupt, the charge should follow the individuals who are culpable and responsible as part of the other proceedings that are being taken against them. I would have no sympathy for many of those, some of whom made irresponsible decisions, because banks were giving extra money and bankrolling properties that would never be viable financially. These same banks had the economic forecasts to know, prior to giving the money, that it was never going to work in the first place.

Those who gave the loans for those properties, and the individuals who took out the loans on those properties and who find themselves in difficulty, need to be held accountable. If that means the State charging individual bank managers under this legislation, then I would have no difficulty supporting the Government if it came forward with amendments in that regard.

We are going down the wrong road if we are saying that if one is under NAMA and one sticks one's property and stuff into bankruptcy or liquidation, which is convenient for many there is no charge. Socially and morally, it sends the wrong message. Even from a political point of view, it is something the Government should consider.

Does the Minister of State want to respond? Has he any more to add?

The arguments made are certainly worth considering, but we are sticking by our attitude to the points made. We are not accepting the amendments, but I would make one point. A company does not go into liquidation to avoid a debt of €100. In fairness, that is not the reason.

It is the message.

I am not disputing some of the points made, but that is the reality.

This is an interim measure. Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke of fairness in the case of the millionaires' property worth whatever in Dublin and the person in the bed-sit in Donegal. We will be bringing in a full property tax. This is an interim measure which will be in place probably for two years. We will be addressing all of the other issues.

We expect to raise €160 million from this charge. That is why it is happening in this way. We do not have a full property tax assessment system in place at this time. It is part of the IMF deal that we have a charge now and that is why we are doing this.

No doubt the IMF calls for a charge, and we support it in principle as well, but the IMF does not force the individual details. The Minister of State stated that we made reasonable points. Perhaps some Members on his side will agree with some of the points we made. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to consider those points between now and whenever the Bill goes to the Dáil, or even on Report Stage here.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 3

Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 8 are related. Amendment No. 7 is also related and an alternative to amendment No. 6. Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 6 to 8, inclusive, may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, subsection (2), line 28, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following:

"(a) €100, and shall not exceed €100 without an amendment to this Act,”.

This relates to the €100 charge that is being imposed by the Minister and the subsequent powers under regulation to amend the charge, but let us look at the fee of €100 before we discuss the amendment specifically. Before the last general election, the Fine Gael Party stated: "The initial flat rate charge means that owners of houses in standard neighbourhoods will pay as much as the owners of mansions". It went on to state: "It will be difficult to pay for asset-rich but income poor households, particularly the elderly and the unemployed". That was said by the Fine Gael Party before the election. Our amendments give the Minister of State the opportunity to support those points. We are trying to facilitate the Government.

The Fine Gael Party also stated that "it will be deeply unfair for a young generation that paid exorbitant amounts of stamp duty and VAT on the purchases on over-valued houses, many of whom now find themselves in negative equity" to pay those charges. Prior to the general election Fine Gael agreed with our amendments, therefore, I appeal to the Minister to examine his conscience and our amendments and step up to the mark and let us all work together. We would have no difficulty in working with the Minister from his standpoint of last January and February. At that time, the Fine Gael Party proposed, instead of the introduction of the €100 charge on households, that additional revenues be taken from inherited wealth through the following measures, as addressed yesterday in the budget: a cut in the capital acquisitions tax threshold by at least 20%, now reduced to €250,000, and an increase in the rate from 25% to 30%. That is the first step of the pre-election promise. There would be an increase in the holiday home or second home tax to €300, bringing in the additional €100.

I appreciate the current economic difficulties which the country is facing. Before the general election it appeared that those who were unemployed and in negative equity, having paid stamp duty, should be exempted from the household charge but it appears the position is now different. On the other hand, the Labour Party, prior to the general election, was opposed to the introduction of a household charge on the basis that it was unfair and inequitable.

In January 2011, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, stated that a flat charge, where two, three and four bedroom properties from all around the country, pay the same charge is the unfairest possible way of all to introduce a property tax. A number of months on, power appears to bring changes and we are in a position where a €100 charge is being introduced in respect of all properties.

We have no difficulty in supporting the principle of widening the tax base but we cannot support the principle of penalising those who cannot afford to pay. Our later amendments will refer to that issue.

In regard to the amendment, section 3(2) and (3) states:

(2) The sum specified in accordance with this section shall be -

(a) €100, or

(b) where a sum stands prescribed for the time being under subsection (3), that sum.

(3) The Minister may from time to time review the sum specified in accordance with this section and, having regard to any change in the consumer price index -

(a) since the commencement of this section, or

(b) where a sum stands prescribed for the time being under this subsection, since the date on which that sum was prescribed,

What that means is that the Minister, from time to time, having regard to the consumer price index, could increase the fee, depending on inflation and other forces from outside the State. We are not willing to support that section because it provides for a regulation to introduce a household charge at €100. I appreciate what the Minister said in respect of a €100 charge in 2012 and 2013.

However, a property based tax may be fairer on the less well-off and those who may not own a high profile property. If we approve the legislation in its current format, we are giving the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the power to increase the €100 household charge at any time to a figure of his own reckoning. That is unacceptable. We find it hard enough to accept the €100 fee for those who can afford to pay but we cannot support a position where the Minister has been given the power under regulation to make those changes.

A couple of amendments which are related are being discussed together; one is in the name of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh which we support. They all relate to the consumer price index. Section 3(6) reads:

In this section "change in the consumer price index" means the difference between -

(a ) the All Items Consumer Price Index number last published by the Central Statistics Office before -

(i) the commencement of this section, ...

We are giving too much power to the Minister, including the power under regulation to increase the fee. We cannot support that. The public need to know that if there is €100 household charge in 2012 and 2013, painful as it is for those who should pay it, the people we have identified should not pay it. The people who would pay it need to plan their finances in the next two years. We cannot have a situation where people are living in fear that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government could change the fee to €150, €200 or €220 by way of regulation without coming before the Oireachtas. We cannot support that.

I cannot support the amendment. Standing Orders should be amended if a Bill proposes to take out X amount of funds. The onus would be on one to identify where one would get the funds to replace it.

Will the Senator please deal with the amendment?

I am dealing with the amendment. We all know that this is not the ideal way to introduce a property tax and nobody has said it is. While the initial charge of €100 per property is not value based, the Minister and the Government are firmly committed to introducing a valuation based property tax to replace the household charge. That is what we said then, that is what we are doing now and that is what we are admitting to now. Nobody said it was ideal.

Senator Ó Domhnaill and Senator Norris said it is not fair for the people in Blackrock who have mansions to pay the same. That is the reason the Minister has indicated that work is to commence early in the new year on the development of a fairer property tax.

That is not what I said.

That is exactly what was said.

Is dócha go dtéann an leasú go dtí croí na ceiste inár dtuairim. Mar a dúirt mé cheana féin, tá Sinn Féin i gcoinne flat tax den chineál seo, tá sí iomlán éagórach, níl an pobal ansin in ann aige; níl sé féaráilte mar a luaigh an Seandóir Ó Domhnaill romham. Bhí páirtí amháin sa fhreasúra a bhí i gcoinne cánacha den chineál seo roimh ré. Phioc mé suas ar an phointe a bhí ag an Seanadóir Keane ansin. Bhí neart roghanna eile, go deimhin chuir Sinn Féin ráiteas réamhbhuiséid amach a léirigh go leor roghanna eile le go bhféadfaí airgead a thabhairt isteach. Tá an Rialtas ag caint faoi €160 milliún a thógáil isteach mar thoradh ar an cháin seo. Dúirt an tAire féin gur cáin áitreabhach í go dtí go mbeidh an cháin mhaoine mar is ceart curtha ar fáil. Cén fáth nár ghlac an Rialtas cáin de chinéal éigin eile nach gcuirfeadh an t-ualach ar gach saoránach, iad siúd ar ioncam íseal san áireamh?

Níl cinéal éigin eile ann. Cén cineál éigin eile?

Táim díreach chun insint don Seanadóir má fhanann sí soicind. Mhol Sinn Féin rud nár thóg an Rialtas san áireamh inné go gcuirfí cáin mhaoine ar ráta 48% orthu siúd atá ag saothrú os cionn €100,000 agus mhol muid cáin mhaoine 1% orthu siúd a bhfuil sealúchas os cionn €1 milliún acu. Sin dhá rud go bhféadfadh an Rialtas seo a chur i bhfeidhm ach níor ghlac sé an rogha sin. Sin an difríocht idir na Seanadóirí ar an taobh sin Tí agus muidne. Is dócha go mbeadh éagsúlacht idir sinn agus an páirtí eile atá lenár dtaobh anseo ar an gceist sin ach bhí roghanna eile ann agus níor ghlac an Rialtas na roghanna sin. Tá sé ag tógáil rogha, agus seo an fhadhb bhunúsach atá againn leis an chuid seo den Acht, a chuireann an t-ualach anuas scun scan ar gach duine, orthu siúd nach bhfuil in ann a íoc agus orthu siúd atá breáábalta a íoc agus b'fhéidir níos mó ná sin a íoc. Níl sin ceart agus níl sin cóir. It is important to state that Sinn Féin is opposed to the flat rate tax, which is inequitable. This was stated previously by the Labour Party. Our amendment No. 6 is related.

When we discussed the waste water Bill we saw that this Minister, apparently, likes to havecarte blanche regarding fees. The Bill states the fee will be €100. If we do not accept these amendments, we are giving carte blanche to the Minister to change that fee in the future. If we take past experience on these issues, for example, in regard to the plastic bag levy, charges have increased over time, as could this charge. It is already too much for those who cannot afford it. There should have been a much more equitable way of approaching this issue.

We do not agree to the flat rate tax. As a damage limitation measure, we are supporting the amendment put forward by Fianna Fáil that the fee should not go over €100. The Minister should not be givencarte blanche to change this without coming back to the Houses of the Oireachtas, which is what we suggested in amendment No. 6.

I am not sure what is meant by the term "relatively modest". I would like the Government to explain to what is meant by "relative". Is it relative to a pensioner in Connemara or a person on social welfare——

It is relative to the salary of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes?

Yes, or any of the salaries of former Taoisigh.

He had his own P. Flynn moment.

Or relative to Gerry's expenses.

I notice Senator Landy did not mention Gerry's wages because he is on the average industrial wage, as the Senator knows well.

A Senator

That should cover his holiday home here.

He is not saving the Exchequer any money.

Senators should speak through the Chair, please.

As Senator Landy knows, Deputy Gerry Adams is on the average industrial wage.

That is not relevant to the amendments.

It is relevant. It is about the ability to pay. The comparison is being made——

He is not saving the Exchequer any money. The Exchequer is paying out the money and funding his party.

The point being made here is about the people in this country——

The Senator believes it himself; that is the worrying thing.

Order, Senator Landy, please.

Senator Landy is getting very worried. His Dáil aspirations are gone.

The point is the ability of the people in this country to pay. There are people who are in a position to pay a tax like this but, as we have said, we have already seen families losing children's allowance, paying extra for school buses and they will have to pay septic tank charges and so on. The Government might not have increased the standard rates of tax but it has certainly put its hands in their pockets in a lot of other ways, and it is taking left, right and centre out of those pockets. This is why we do not agree with this €100 charge and we certainly do not agree with giving the Minister blanket powers to increase it at any stage, when he wants to.

I need some clarity from the last speaker in regard to the request to not have everybody penalised at the same rate of €100 because it is inequitable, while, at the same time, the Senator does not want it increased at any stage. The whole basis of this process is that we will have to carry out a property valuation assessment on which the tax will then be based. The Senator cannot have it both ways. He can agree that people who can afford to pay more will pay. He cannot say he does not want it increased beyond €100 and, at the same time, say he is opposed to the whole charge. I need clarity in that regard.

Order, please. Senator Landy has the floor.

On another point, much has been made of the word "modest" in regard to the charge and the promise the Minister has made. I am a little puzzled in regard to amendment No. 5, which states, "This section shall not apply to those who own a residential property, and whose annual income is less than €75,000". Is Senator Ó Clochartaigh suggesting €75,000 is a modest income? He has already said his own party leader is on half of that, namely, the average industrial wage. We might achieve something today but these amendments are being put forward in a totally contradictory way.

Roimh an olltoghcháin bhí Fine Gael agus Páirtí an Lucht Oibre díreach in aghaidh an mhuirir seo. Dúirt Fine Gael go raibh siad chun an cháin ar áit chónaithe phríobháideach neamhphríomha a árdú go €300 in aghaidh na bliana agus dúirt Páirtí an Lucht Oibre go raibh siad chun an cháin sin a árdú go €500, in ionad an chostais seo a leagadh. Bhí siad in aghaidh an chostais seo. Ní féidir leo a rá anois nach bhfuil aon rogha acu agus nach féidir leo aon rud eile a dhéanamh mar go ndúirt an IMF leo é a dhéanamh.

Ta €300 i bhfad níos mó ná€100.

Cén fáth ar chuir na páirtithe na geallúintí sin ina bhforógraí? An raibh siad ag insint bréaga le muintir na hÉireann? Sin a cheapann na daoine.

Why did the Government parties go before the people prior to the election and say——

Senator Byrne should speak to the amendments.

I am speaking to the amendment and the section, which is about the charge of €100 that Fine Gael and the Labour Party said they would not introduce. They not only said they would not do it, they said there was another way of doing it.

We have to do it.

They do not. They said before the election they would not do it, and they showed a way to raise a similar amount of money, but they will not do that because they are bringing it in on everybody else. It is not true to say they have to do it. Ministers, including the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in this Chamber and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, in the Dáil, have said repeatedly that the IMF does not care what the Government does as long as the targets are reached. Senator Landy has an alternative but he intends to spread it around to everybody. He will be lashed by Deputy Seamus Healy and by Mattie down in south Tipperary because this is an unfair tax.

The Senator should not worry about that. He should worry about getting back his seat.

I am going to be lashed as well.

(Interruptions).

Senator Noone can correct me if I am wrong. As it is a long time since I studied constitutional law, I will not claim to have any particular knowledge or expertise in the area, as I do not. However, I did not understand that a Minister could raise the amount of tax through delegated legislation or through statutory powers. If a Minister were able to do that or if that were the practice, all of the financial resolutions of the Dáil last night could be done by ministerial order. Why would we need the Oireachtas to raise motor tax, carbon tax or VAT if a Minister could get a statutory power like this provision to allow him to do it?

The provision does not state the Minister must increase it by the amount of the consumer price index, as it is defined here, although it states that the Minister must have regard to it, as I read the section. I do not mind if there is a statutory provision that states it must go up or go down in line with the consumer price index. Let us not forget in recent years there was a negative consumer price index, so does this mean it would go down? I believe the Minister is allowed to do that.

The raising of taxation is a matter for the Oireachtas, the Dáil in particular. I do not know why we are giving that power to a Minister or why a Minister would want that power. It seems fundamentally undemocratic. I would like the Minister of State to explain why the Minister needed to go to the Dáil last night to raise carbon tax and all those other taxes but it is proposed in this section that he does not have to do that. It is too much power and it should not be allowed.

I have a number of points. I like to enlighten people from the Government parties when they have queries and questions. They sometimes make it very easy for us.

There is humility.

The first point I would make on the amendments under discussion is that we cannot table a simple amendment which calls for the complete abolition of the €100 charge because it would be ruled out of order. That is why we have looked at mitigating the worst excesses of the charge and ways in which we can protect people on welfare, including old age pensioners, and those who earn under €75,000 a year. When we get to that amendment, Senator Landy will get a full, clear and frank explanation as to why that is the case.

It would need to be clear and frank. The Senator is living in a different world.

I appreciate it is very painful and difficult for Labour Party members as they are in very real trouble given they are trying to defend the indefensible and have broken so many promises in regard to their own manifestos——

The Senator is a bit flaky himself regarding Deputy Gerry Adams.

——that they were reduced to clutching at straws, and picking up on this misinformation in newspapers to throw at the Sinn Féin representatives. I know they are scraping the bottom of the barrel——

The newspapers are all wrong in that case.

——but with respect, they should not make it that easy for us.

On another point, the whole purpose of this charge is to raise revenue. Why are people being asked to pay this €100? The Government said there was to be no increase in income tax and that an increase in income tax would hurt people, yet many people are being asked to pay this €100 charge, which is €2 per week. It is a flat charge and they are not paying for any service or for extra services which will be provided to their homes. They are being taxed €100. It is a €100 tax, or €2 per week.

Just before I came to the Chamber, I took a telephone call from an old age pensioner and homeowner who wanted to know if the charge would apply. The pensioner said that if it is the case, it represents a cut of €2 per week, yet the Government states it is not cutting social welfare.

The Senator is making a speech rather than dealing with the amendment.

I am dealing with the charge of €100.

The Senator is not dealing with the amendments, he is making a speech.

I am dealing with the €100 charge.

The Government is saying anybody on mortgage interest relief is okay. In the budget, it increased the mortgage interest relief to 30% for certain people who are in very real difficulty with their mortgages. While the Government is affording them this welcome relief, it is also taking €100 per week from them. There is no logic to this.

The point I am making to the Minister of State, which is in keeping with all the amendments to which I refer, begs the question as to why the charge is being imposed. What do people get for it? What is the return? If it is a tax, it should be called a tax. The Government should not be saying to the people in the State that it is not increasing taxation when it is very clear that it is.

It is stated income tax is not being increased.

Is the €2 per week coming from the trees?

The Senator just said that €100 per year is €2 per week.

The Senator should address the Chair.

Where does the money come from?

The Senator stated we said we——

Senator Moloney will have her chance in a minute.

We are not increasing income tax.

The problem is that nobody is buying what the Government is selling. People who are to pay the €100 are saying the weekly €2 must come from their income. When I hear the nonsense from Fine Gael and the Labour Party that people are not paying any more income tax, I contend I am paying more taxes. This is a tax.

Tá díospóireacht mhór ar siúl inniu agus caithfidh mé cuid des na ceisteanna a fhreagairt. An rud bunúsach atá Seanadóirí Shinn Féin ag rá ná go bhfuil siad i gcoinne gach rud agus nach bhfuil siad i bhfábhar rud ar bith.

An fáth go bhfuil an táille seo á leagadh ná nach bhfuil go leor airgid ag teacht isteach ón ghnáth cháin chun an tír a choimeád slán. Bhí ar an Rialtas roimhe seo a lán airgid a fháil on IMF. Tá sé ráite, ag Sinn Féin ach go háirithe, nár chóir aon chuid den airgead sin a aisíoc agus go gcaithfear stop a chur leis sin láithreach. Seo an cheist do Sheanadóirí Shinn Féin. Más rud é nach n-aisíocfar an t-airgead sin beidh ar an tír seo €20 billiún a fháil láithreach chun an tír a choimeád slán. Dá dtarlódh sin, thitfeadh an córas oideachais, an córas sláinte agus an córas leasa shóisialaigh as a gcéile. Sin an fáth go bhfuil an rud seo ag teacht isteach. Níl aon dul as againn. Caithfear é a dhéanamh.

Níl anseo ach tús. Taobh istigh de dhá bhliain beidh táille a chur ar gach teach, bunaithe ar luach an tí agus rudaí eile. Ó thaobh an €100 de, ní bheidh sé ann ach ar feadh dhá bhliana. Más rud é go bhfuil árdú san phraghasinnéacs tomhaltóirí beidh an méid ag árdú. Sin toil an Aire. Caithfear an t-airgead a fháil agus, inár dtuairim, seo an tslí is córa chun é a dhéanamh.

I thank everybody who contributed on this amendment. Subsection (2) of the Bill provides that a charge will be set at €100 for 2012. The amendment proposed by Fianna Fáil seeks to state specifically that the household charge shall not exceed €100 without an amendment to the Act and proposes to delete the provisions for amending the quantum of the household charge, having regard to changes in the all-items consumer price index, CPI. The provision to amend the charge, having regard to the CPI, is far from being a mechanism to allow for large or substantial increases of the charge. I assure the Senators that it does not provide a mechanism for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to increase disproportionately the quantum of the household charge in future years. Rather, it is a standard provision that is also contained in the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009, which provides for the charge on non-principal residences. The Bill before the House is largely based on the provision contained in the 2009 Act.

The CPI provisions of the Bill simply provide that the Minister may have regard to inflation in any decision on the level of the household charge for future years. Any future change in the quantum of the charge will be limited to the change in the CPI since its level was last determined. Therefore, there is no question of increases of the kind to which the Senator referred. It would not be possible under these provisions to increase disproportionately the household charge in the future. Any proposal to increase the charge in excess of the CPI would require the Oireachtas to pass amending legislation.

I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for his proposed amendment to delete subsection 3(3) of the Bill. I dealt with the matter in my response earlier. For the reasons set out, ní féidir linn glacadh leis an leasú seo.

Go raibh míle maith ag an Aire. Tá mé buíoch dó as a chuid freagraí. Dúirt sé ins an bhfreagra go raibh Sinn Féin i gcoinne gach rud. Tá a fhios ag an Aire nach bhfuil sé sin fíor, beag nó mór. Níl a fhios agam an bfhuil Route to Recovery, aighneacht Shinn Féin, léite ag an Aire.

Tá sé léite agam.

Fair play don Aire. B'fhéidir go dtabharfadh sé cóipeanna dá chomhghleacaithe.

Ach ní thuigim é.

Níl muid i gcoinne gach rud——

It is in German also.

Níl muid i gcoinne gach rud. Táimid ar son rudaí go leor. Luaigh mé sin leis an Seanadóir Keane.

The Sinn Féin German was not convincing in the Dáil.

Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut. Ich verstehe ein Bisschen. An rud atáimid ar a son, agus is cosúil nach bhfuil an Rialtas ar a son, ná an cháin a leagadh ar na daoine a bhfuil maoin acu.

Will the Senator return to the amendment?

I am speaking to the amendment because it relates to the ability to pay. Tá roghanna eile ann, agus bhí roghanna eile ag an Rialtas. Níl sé ró-dheireanach fós. Tá Sinn Féin ar son cáin a chur ar dhaoine a bhfuil airgead acu. Níl muid i gcoinne sin. Táimid i bhfábhar cáin a chur ar dhaoine a bhfuil €1 milliún de mhaoin acu, cáin ioncaim ar ráta 48% a chur ar dhaoine ata ag saothrú os cionn €100,000 sa bhliain agus caidhp €100,000 a chur ar thuarastail Airí Rialtais agus stát seirbhísí sinsearacha. D'fhéadfaí an t-airgead seo a fháil ón dream a bhfuil sé acu. Ta an Rialtas ag caint ar €160,000 a phiocadh suas.

The Senator said all that in his previous contribution.

Phioc an t-Aire suas air agus tá mé ag iarraidh é a cheartú. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go mbeadh sé ceartaithe. Tá an Rialtas i gcoinne na rudaí sin. Tá an tAire ag rá go bhfuil Sinn Féin i gcoinne rudaí. Tá seisean i gcoinne breathnú ar na rudaí sin nó iad a chur i bhfeidhm.

Sin an náire, go bhfuil an Rialtas sásta an cháin seo a chur anuas ar dhaoine bochta, ar dhaoine saibhre, ar phinsinéirí agus ar dhaoine atá ar ioncaim ísle. Tá sé sin náireach agus scannalach.

Tá an Rialtas ag breathnú ar gach rud.

Bhí sé soiléir inné céard a bhí sa bhuiséad.

I fully appreciate what the Minister said ins an freagra a thug sé, go háirithe i dtaca leis an dóigh a bhreathnódh an t-Aire Comhshaol, Pobal and Rialtas Áitiúil ar an táille €100 agus a intinn a dhéanamh suas maidir leis an táille a árdú, ag déanamh tagairt don phraghasinnéacs tomhaltóirí, CPI.

We cannot accept the position of the Minister of State, unfortunately, and we will be pressing the amendment on the basis that subsection 3(3) states, "The Minister may from time to time review the sum specified [€100] in accordance with this section and, having regard to any change in the consumer price index". While it refers to "having regard to changes in the consumer price index", it does not mean the Minister must accept what is being said in this regard. The charge should remain at €100 in the next 24 months and, thereafter, the Government should make every effort to ensure a fairer system of taxation for those who can afford to pay after 2014.

On that very point, I understand the wording is exactly the same as in the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009, and that is why we argue it must stand. Fianna Fáil, when in government, introduced that legislation.

Yes. That is why we say it must stand. It was brought in by Fianna Fáil in 2009.

That was on the holiday homes.

The words are the same.

It is a totally different matter.

It is the same principle.

Tá an prionsabal anseo an-difriúil ar fad. An prionsabal atá i gceannas anseo ná an prionsabal an táille a leagan ar ghach teaghlach sa tír, gnáthdhaoine na tíre. Séard a bhí sa chostas a chuir Fianna Fáil i bhfeidhm sa bhliain 2009, ná costas ar dhaoine go raibh infheistíocht acu i dtithe saoire nó i dteach eile seachas teach an teaghlaigh. Níl sé cothrom ná ceart go mbeadh na forálacha céanna i bhfeidhm maidir le gnáthdhaoine. Tá an Rialtas ag iarraidh certainty a thabhairt do ghnáthdhaoine na tíre agus bheadh sé níos cirte gan an €100 a chur sa reachtaíocht. B'fhearr fanacht agus féachaint an dtiocfaidh an Rialtas isteach roimh ré agus an athróidh sé an figiúr. Níl sé ceart go mbeadh na forálacha céanna ann do ghnáthdhaoine agus do dhaoine eile a bhfuil infheistíocht acu i dtithe.

Amendment No. 6 provides that the sum may be revised by the Oireachtas. This is an important amendment and I ask the Minister of State to consider it. We are arguing that the Houses of the Oireachtas should in the first instance decide whether to increase the charge. It should not be the prerogative of a Minister to increase the charge. I will not rehearse all the issues arising because I am aware that people will ask us why we are now arguing that the charge should stay at the same rate given that we opposed it. We oppose the measure but we accept the reality that the Government intends to introduce a charge of €100. However, the Members of this House should debate the merits or otherwise of future increases to the charge. That is a fundamental principle for my party in terms of democracy and the relevance of the Oireachtas. Whenever we seek to raise further revenue from people who are struggling, we should hold a proper debate about the social consequences of our actions.

Irrespective of the position we take on this charge, everybody accepts it will create difficulties for some families. The Minister of State will argue that the decision has to be taken because of our economic situation. While I accept his bona fides, it should not be the prerogative of a Minister to increase charges set out in legislation whenever he or she sees fit to do so.

I acknowledge what was said regarding the 2009 Act and second or holiday homes. These properties were purchased for investment purposes and often they were rented out. One cannot compare the second home levy to the household charge because the latter will affect every family in this country. We cannot support legislation that empowers the Minister to increase the charge by way of regulation and we will be pressing our amendment for that reason.

This Bill is no different from the 2009 Act. The wording is exactly the same even if the issues are different. It is a standard process and we do not see any basis for the Senators' concerns.

It is not exactly the same with social welfare. The Minister for Social Protection cannot increase or decrease social welfare payments without reference to the Oireachtas. There is nothing to prevent this charge being changed by means of a Financial Resolution on budget day. I do not see why it cannot be subject to the democratic will of the people. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the amendment.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 15.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Terry Leyden and Ned O’Sullivan.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.

Before we move on to amendment No. 5, I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors' Gallery of a former Minister and Member of the House, Michael J. Noonan, from Limerick. Tá fáilte romhat.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 29 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following subsections:

"(3) This section shall not be commenced until such point as the Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection have had carried out a poverty impact analysis study. Such a study will have regard to—

(a) the impact of the household charge on the household’s income,

(b) whether the charge would be likely to cause deprivation,

(c) whether the effect of the charge would be such as to cause people to be deprived of two or more goods or services considered essential for a basic standard of living from the following 11-item index developed by the ESRI—

(i) two pairs of strong shoes,

(ii) a warm waterproof overcoat,

(iii) buy new not second-hand clothes,

(iv) eat meals with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day,

(v) have a roast joint or its equivalent once a week,

(vi) has not needed to go without heating during the last year through lack of money,

(vii) keep the home adequately warm,

(viii) buy presents for family or friends at least once a year,

(ix) replace any worn out furniture,

(x) have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month, and

(xi) have had a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight, for entertainment,

(d) whether a charge on households which would have regard to the income of a person may be more appropriate.

(4) This section shall not apply to those who own a residential property, and whose annual income is less than €75,000.".

Téann an leasú seo go croí an scéil arís, ó thaobh an chumas atá ar dhaoine chun táillí agus eile a íoc, i gcomhthéacs na gcánacha breise seo a bhfuil an Rialtas ag iarraidh brú ar mhuintir na tíre. Táimid ag moladh nach leanfaí ar aghaidh leis an rannóg seo go dtí go bhfuil torthaí na hanailíse curtha i bhfeidhm.

This goes to the heart of the story of the fee that is to be imposed on all the households of this country. This flat-rate tax is very inequitable because it does not take into consideration the financial situation of the people or families in question. Sinn Féin is suggesting in this amendment that section 3 shall not be commenced until such a time as the social inclusion division of the Department of Social Protection has carried out a poverty impact analysis study which takes account of the impact of the household charge on the income of the households concerned. Sin an slat tomhais atá ag an Institiúid Taighde Eacnamaíochta agus Sóisialta agus ag an Aontas Eorpach. Sin iad staitisticí na n-eagraíochtaí sin ar chaighdeán maireachtála. Sin a úsáideann siad maidir le bochtanas agus is mar sin a thomhaiseann siad bochtanas. Táimid ag rá nár chóir go mbeadh ar dhaoine bochta an táille breise seo a íoc.

These are the ESRI and European Union statistics on income and living condition standards to measure consistent poverty. The amendment provides that anybody who is within the criteria outlined here is in consistent poverty and therefore should not have to pay an extra €100 tax. If this section relating to the charges is passed, it should not be commenced until the study has been carried out by the Department and the social inclusion division. The amendment provides that the charges should not be imposed on households unless there is regard to the income of the person. Again, we are taking account of the income of those families. It also provides that the section shall not apply to those who own a residential property and whose annual income is less than €75,000. Senator Landy found this laughable earlier, which is very serious. We are saying that anybody who has an income of €75,000 or less and has a family and so forth is not very wealthy by any means, and anybody who has an income above that is in a better position to pay an extra charge.

Our argument is, first, that we do not agree with a flat rate tax. We would have opposed it but we would have been ruled out of order, as the Minister is aware. We suggest therefore that if the Government proceeds with this, it must be on the higher income earners whom we consider to be those on incomes above the €75,000 threshold. That is the reason we put forward this amendment. It is extremely important. These are the standard measuring tools used by the ESRI and the European Union to assess whether a family or person is living in consistent poverty. There are many people in Ireland suffering from consistent poverty at present and they should not be obliged to pay this extra €100 tax.

Owing to the time restriction I did not have an opportunity to speak on Second Stage. I apologise for arriving rather late to the debate. This amendment is part of the broader debate on where we are proceeding with taxation from the point of view of fairness and equality.

The Senator who moved the amendment will have to recognise the fact that every consideration of the Irish tax and economic situation points towards the broadening of the tax base and that some type of property tax or household charge must be part of that equation. One could say the amendment is worthy. I often wonder about the role and the worth of the ESRI and its definition of the poverty index. It is quite interesting. I never thought we would be debating two pairs of strong shoes, a warm waterproof coat and eating meals of meat and so forth. If we were to apply that to every charge, levy and tax in a very strict fashion, about 95% of taxpayers in the country should not be paying tax.

I am unaware of what Senator Landy said about the demand that persons with an annual income of less than €75,000 should be exempt from this tax. I have occasionally tuned into the debates initiated by Sinn Féin on taxation and have heard the party's catch-all phrase about taxing the greedy, not the needy; I am relieved, therefore, that under the new Sinn Féin agenda an annual income of €75,000 is deemed to be low. However, we must be realistic. We live in a financially bankrupt country. We are borrowing hundreds of millions of euro every week to keep the economy ticking over and, sadly, the money must come from somewhere. There is no perfect or fair taxation system because there will always be people who suffer excessively. I do not see how we can accept this amendment.

The €100 charge is not excessive. Of all the taxes and charges introduced in recent years the one that succeeded in bringing in more money than expected, was easy to collect and over which there was little public outcry was the tax on second houses. Many of my constituents reported to me that while they could have challenged the tax and argued that the second house was not eligible to be taxed, the fact that the amount was small and it was possible to pay it on-line meant that they did pay it. Taxation must be easy to pay and to administer. The more exemptions that are put in place, the more difficult it will be to collect.

I am not sneering at the amendment or what the ESRI deems to be the basis for deciding whether a person is poor or rich.

It is not just the ESRI. I hope the Senator is not sneering at people living in poverty.

No. In fact, this week's budget was all about trying——

It was about putting more people into poverty. The Senator is right.

——to assist people, look after the most needy in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves and not reducing core social welfare payments.

Which the Government did.

It was about not increasing taxes and, above all, trying to ensure that the majority of people on social welfare and those on the lower end of the income spectrum can aspire to a job and a future in this country. There are political parties and politicians whose existence would finish if the poverty industry disappeared and if we could lift people out of poverty. That is what the Government is attempting to do. It is trying to bring a degree of certainty to the economic management of the country——

Is the Senator saying that if somebody aspires to end poverty, he or she has a vested interest and should not aspire to it because he or she might lose politically?

I will try——

That is an extraordinary statement.

I will try to respond, through the Chair, to the misguided interpretation of my earlier comments by the Senator.

Our aspiration in this country should be to move people out of the poverty zone back to work.

However, we must also recognise that resources are exceptionally limited and we must raise money to pay social welfare and provide medical and educational services, particularly for those most in need. I wish there was a magic wand. The Senator's party colleagues in Northern Ireland spent many years on the margins and I welcome the fact that they have come in from those margins. However, like me, the Senator is as aware of the difficult measures they are introducing, with relish——

Is the Senator speaking to the amendment? I was ruled out of order for mentioning the North earlier.

They are introducing taxes, charges and property taxes and levies, as well as closing hospitals and schools. That is part of the Sinn Féin agenda——

Will I have a chance to respond? I was ruled out of order for setting the record straight.

It is part of the Sinn Féin agenda in Northern Ireland.

We wish to respond but we were ruled out of order. Impartiality should be shown by the Acting Chairman.

I will have to seek the protection of the Chair from the Sinn Féin onslaught.

The Senator should speak to the amendment.

The amendment is a piece of political gamesmanship, and Opposition parties will always do that. When the debate was about water and service charges no party was stronger in its opposition to such charges than the Senator's, yet his party colleagues are introducing all of these charges.

It is important that we can expand the tax base. If we are to try to keep income taxes low and taxes and levies on work low, we must broaden the tax base. This modest charge is helpful in that regard. I look forward to hearing the Minister's view on this poverty index. If we were strict in applying it to every tax and levy and to every application for social assistance, medical card and so forth, 95% of the people would be covered by it. In the real world it is not possible to accept the Sinn Féin amendment, but perhaps the Minister will comment on this index and whether he considers €75,000 a fair figure. In my view a person with an income of €75,000 is reasonably well off, to put it mildly.

Would the Senator agree with €50,000? We can amend it to €50,000 if the Senator agrees.

I look forward to the Minister's response in the first place. We must be realistic. The country is in the current position because politicians played politics and were not realistic for the past ten years. If we are to have any hope of turning the country around, getting rid of poverty, getting people back to work and growing the economy again, we must have real politics. Real politics is generally difficult politics. It is not about easy choices and slogans.

This is a very good Second Stage speech.

The legislation is realistic. Never in my years here have I seen perfect legislation brought forward. There are always difficulties and, unfortunately, there are always people on the margins who fall outside the scope of a scheme or idea but it is a reasonable attempt at expanding our tax base in a reasonably fair fashion and at a modest level. That is the reason this amendment is not acceptable or realistic, and I do not think its proposers believe it is realistic or fair.

We will get a chance to respond.

If they are, as proof of their sincerity they should try to get their Northern colleagues who are in Government to introduce similar legislation.

First, I support this amendment in principle. It is a very good one. Second, I always listen with great interest to what Senator Bradford says because he says it in such a calm, measured and reasonable way but that does not always mean the ideas he enunciates are as calm and reasonable as the tone.

The first point I would make is that I do not believe this country is bankrupt. It would be much better if it were because if it were bankrupt under certain conditions that would mean we would have debt forgiveness, and we do not. We are still struggling with a degree of international poverty. A number of our banks are obviously useless but that would not necessarily qualify the country for a definition of bankruptcy.

The second point is that it is a rather astonishing assertion that if this table of criteria were applied, 95% of the people of this island would be found to be covered by it. We are talking about fairly basic needs such as warmth, food and shelter and however misgoverned this country has been over the past 90 years, not just ten, I do not believe there has been a period in my life time where 95% of people would be excluded from the tax net because they did not meet these criteria. That is political hyperbole.

A €75,000 income limit.

That would be a different matter but the Senator was talking about the criteria. When I said it is not just in the past ten years, I was greatly struck by the fact that we are now in the anniversary of the treaty, which is a significant historical event but if one examines the bills that came in from Harrods and Fortnum & Mason one can see that the delegates did not go to the cheapest shops. I do not think we would find too many of them without two pairs of strong shoes, warm overcoats or an extraordinary supply of high quality mints and alcoholic beverages of any kind. I read some of the bills that came in from the top shops in London to that delegation with considerable interest. They did not stint themselves, and they certainly would not have been covered by this list.

The list is interesting and is worthy of a certain amount of scrutiny because it is a bit motley. One of the criteria is two pairs of strong shoes. Can anybody honestly say that it is not appropriate that people should have two pairs of strong shoes? It would be shocking if people could object to that. Another is a warm waterproof overcoat. With the kind of climate we have that is essential. I have some reservation about buying new and not second-hand clothes. I do not see anything wrong with second-hand clothes. Many people are very glad that there are shops where one can get second-hand clothes.

People cannot afford to buy a new overcoat. There is nothing wrong with buying second-hand.

Okay. I recently got a Giorgio Armani overcoat from a charity shop which we valued at about €2,000. It was Multiple Sclerosis Ireland. I had given them a donation and they told me there was something in the back of the shop in which I might be interested, which they had priced at €50. I know many people from various walks of life, and some professional people who have experienced financial difficulties, who get very good clothes in second-hand shops. I am not worried about whether clothes are new or second-hand as long as they are adequate and protect people. I would have less of a concern about that, but that is just me.

The question of food is important. It is a basic requirement that people should have a diet that would sustain them physically. That is No. 4 on the list.

No. 5 is to have a roast joint or its equivalent once a week. I could take or leave that but perhaps there is nothing wrong with that.

It is desperately important to emphasise No. 6 — adequate heating. We have already cut the fuel allowance from 32 to 26 weeks, and that affects people in different ways. Obviously, it affects the poor very seriously but with different degrees of seriousness because there are people, for example, with conditions which mean that throughout the year they must be kept at an even temperature. Otherwise, they are exposed to serious health risk. It is reasonable to expect that people should be allowed sufficient income to keep themselves warm.

Keeping the home adequately warm is a similar requirement. Nobody with good conscience could possibly deny that is important. Buying a present for family or friends at least once a year is a lovely thing to do and it is enriching but I would not be quite as concerned about that. With any list there are some difficulties. People can make presents, and sometimes they are the best presents one gets because people have taken time and trouble to make them. That is what I prefer to get. Another on the list is to replace any worn out furniture. That is a little loose. I understand the reason for it but there is a looseness of expression in that regard.

I do not know about having family or friends for a drink or a meal once a month or having a morning, afternoon or evening out once a fortnight for entertainment. That is very humane but there have been many fortnights when I have not had that and I have survived with reasonable good humour.

This is a useful start but it is not a litmus test. If this amendment is not accepted I would respectfully suggest to my friends in Sinn Féin that they resubmit it, argue the case and perhaps select out the ones that are indefensible such as heat, warmth, clothing and diet. If they want to have this amendment accepted they must concentrate on the things that are inarguable. I do not believe a decent person of conscience could say it is appropriate that people should be charged an extra tax, and it is an extra tax, if they cannot afford a pair of shoes because it is necessary for their health or if they cannot afford proper heating, a proper diet or proper clothing. I respectfully suggest that they should separate that out on Report Stage and I will support it. I would vote for it even as it is. That would make it more embarrassing for anybody to object to. They should select out the ones that nobody in this country could possibly justify retaining and take out the other ones. They should take out the reference to €75,000 and put it in another amendment if they wish but if they focus sharply on this one not only will I support it but I would be happy to second it.

I hope I would be regarded as one of the caring Senators — I cannot remember the other adjectives — Senator Norris mentioned.

Certainly so far. The Senator is on probation.

I support the ESRI and the surveys it undertakes. The group will be established to examine value based property tax but we are not saying that is ideal. I have absolutely no objection to the ESRI analysis being used by the group set up by the Minister to look at poverty impact studies. However, I object to the part of the amendment which states that it shall not be commenced until such point as the social inclusion division of the Department of Social Protection carries out a poverty impact analysis study. That is putting it on the long finger. We have said time and again that the introduction of the €100 charge is not ideal, but we are doing this in the interim because of the legacy left to us. We have to find the money. If the Senator had come up with ways of finding the money, I would remind him——

The Senator should read our pre-budget submission.

There are exemptions in this Bill for local authority houses. There are people in poverty who are living in local authority houses. There are people in poverty who are paying high mortgages. There are exemptions for such people who receive mortgage interest supplement. There are exemptions for people who would fit in all the categories in the amendment. I have no argument at all with the ESRI survey. I have an argument with the category which states "have a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight, for entertainment," because there are many people caring for the disabled who do not have a morning, an afternoon, an evening or any time off at all. We have to be realistic.

Has the Senator costed the part of the amendment that relates to the €75,000 provision? We are targeting €160 million to be raised. If the people who are earning €75,000 are taken out of the equation, we would lose about €100 million from that. Where will the Senator find that? Until he comes up with alternatives, I cannot accept this.

People should understand clearly what this motion is calling for. We are calling for the social inclusion division of the Department of Social Protection to carry out a poverty impact analysis study. We are essentially calling on the Government to start poverty proofing policies. There is nothing wrong with that. We could have a whole raft of anti-poverty organisations — people who advocate on behalf of those who live in poverty — before this House and there would be no end of Senators who would come in and tell them how great they are, how great their work is, how they empathise with them, how people should not live in poverty and so on, yet when we call for a policy to be poverty proofed, there is something wrong with that. We are essentially saying that if a Government brings in a charge and that charge is likely to lead more people into poverty, we have a difficulty with it.

Senator Norris had some concerns and I accept almost all of what he said. He went through the full list in the amendment very well, but the list is not of Sinn Féin's making. It is from the list provided by the ESRI and it is supported by a broad range of anti-poverty agencies. I believe everybody in this House is concerned about those living in poverty. We are simply stating the measurement of poverty. These are not our words or our measure. We are accepting the measure according to the baseline in Europe, the ESRI and all those organisations.

I accepted that.

I am just making the point that this is the purpose of what we are trying to do.

Senator Bradford asked whether Sinn Féin was serious about this amendment. We are absolutely serious about it. We are absolutely serious about dealing with poverty.

I referred to the €75,000 threshold.

It is the main reason I got involved in politics. I can see people, including children, who are living in poverty. I deal with it every single day of the week and it motivates me to come into this House when I know that people are struggling. I hear politicians say that €100 is only €2 per week but that may be the case for somebody on €70,000, €80,000, €100,000 or €150,000——-

Or €75,000. That is a separate issue and I will deal with it. For people living in poverty, €2 per week is a huge amount of money. In a previous debate today, we had a discussion about the pay and pensions of very senior civil servants and Ministers. I made all those points about difficult times, the hard decisions that had to be made and that we had to find the money somewhere, but I was dismissed. We were calling for pay to be capped at €100,000, but we were dismissed. The same people who dismissed those arguments come into this House, do not accept our amendment to poverty proof this policy on the €100 charge and tell us that we are in difficult times, that tough decisions have to be made, that we are bankrupt and so on. On the one hand, they use that excuse to hammer people who are in poverty and, on the other, they do not accept it when it comes to dealing with the lottery sums in pay which many politicians and people at the top of the public service have walked away with. That is why I will continue to table motions and amendments like this which deal with poverty issues.

This is a very serious amendment and although it only deals with the €100 charge, we would rather the Government moved towards poverty proofing all of its policies on health, education, taxes and so on. If we were serious about eradicating poverty, that is what we would do. Do we believe that poverty can be eradicated overnight? No. Do we believe that poverty can be eradicated completely? Maybe not. We can certainly do an awful lot better than what we are doing. What is wrong with poverty proofing policies? I fail to see what is wrong with it.

I fully appreciate the context of this motion. I agree with the Sinn Féin Senators that legislation which has a financially negative impact on households should be poverty proofed. All legislation should be poverty proofed and perhaps that has happened in this situation. I am not sure, but I doubt that the Department of Social Protection has poverty proofed this Bill. Last night the Minister for Finance stated that the Minister for Social Protection consulted widely before she made the decision to reduce the disability allowance from €188 to €77. I wonder how wide that consultation was, because I know, from talking to the representatives of a number of disability organisations, that they were not consulted, nor were families consulted.

We have to get serious. That is not a criticism of the Government. It refers to any Government, whether it is made up of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party. In challenging economic times, we have to look at who we are targeting with taxation measures that impact on individuals. In particular, we should look at this when a taxation measure contains very little discretion in respect of exemptions and waivers, as is currently outlined in this Bill.

Senator Norris has gone through the 11 item index from the ESRI criteria. Many of them make sense. There are many families out there who would struggle to meet some of those requirements, be they the two pairs of shoes or the warm overcoat. I am glad to hear that Senator Norris got a very good deal. If we are looking out for a deal, it is good to know we can consult him. Let us take the example of subparagraphs (vi) and (vii) of the amendment, which refer to going without heating during the last year through lack of money, and keeping the home adequately warm. These examples are more justified today than they were this day last week. The person who is in receipt of fuel allowance will be losing about €100 per year on that payment as a result of Monday's budget, as the window for such a payment is being reduced from 32 to 26 weeks. That person is now being asked to pay the €100 household charge, so the net loss to such a person is €200. We have to take this kind of thing into consideration.

We have gone down a different route with our amendments, which contain specific categories of people who are exempt, such as those who are in receipt of the old age non-contributory pension, those on jobseeker's allowance, supplementary welfare and so on. We will get to those categories in a later section.

I agree with the principle of this amendment. We should consider what is happening to families under great financial pressure at the moment. I find it difficult to extend agreement to the level of income referred to, €75,000, because Senators earn approximately €60,000. This would mean we would be exempt and that would not be right. If one had ten children and vast borrowings and negative equity it would be a different issue.

We have discussed the issue of negative equity. An income of €75,000 or €60,000 for a single person with one property and no financial outgoings in terms of family and so forth, is fine. It would be unfair to expect that person to receive a waiver while others under more pressure do not. I suggest revisiting that part of the amendment but we should consider the rest of it, which, in principle, we have no difficulty in supporting.

With regard to the €75,000 provision referred to by the previous speaker, Senator Ó Domhnaill, I too cannot support it. What is the basis for it? I would prefer not to doubt the bona fides of Senator Cullinane's sincerity but his own party has put itself forward as being the Thirty-two County party, yet we note what Sinn Féin is implementing north of the Border where there are only two groups of exemptions and there is no poverty-proofing whatsoever as regards the property tax. Also, a cap on payment applies whereby any house over £400,000 in value does not pay any extra tax. This is not equitable. I said yesterday I could not go along with something which in the longer term would charge the tenant purchaser of a council house the same as a person living in a house worth a couple of million euro.

I accept this is an interim measure until a system for rating properties is introduced but I could not go along with it. North of the Border a person with a house worth £3 million will pay the same tax as a person with a house worth £400,000. There is no equitable system in place in Northern Ireland and yet we are given to believe that the concerns of Sinn Féin south of the Border are as listed by Senator Cullinane and his colleagues in this amendment. Again we see the hypocrisy of putting forward what would be termed here a passionate concern for the poor but, 100 miles up the road, we see that all of these people are disregarded and no effort is being made by his party in government in Northern Ireland to implement the same type of scheme.

The social development fund, the social inclusion fund.

I ask the Senator not to interrupt me, please.

They opposed water charges. I was interrupted.

If the Senator can resist interrupting me I would appreciate it. I understand his difficulty.

I am not in difficulty.

It is very difficult for us to sit here and listen to these so-called passionate speeches about people and poverty when the opportunity is given to the same party to govern in Northern Ireland and yet it has adopted a completely different attitude towards property tax there. These things need to be said. It is important to be honest with the people. Who is to say if the same party were in government down here that it would not implement the policy it currently follows in Northern Ireland?

I welcome the opportunity to clarify the situation in Northern Ireland because it is often misconstrued by members of the Labour Party and Fine Gael who obviously do not know what they are talking about when it comes to the Northern Ireland situation. This is due to the lack of interest they seem to have in it. One cannot compare apples with oranges and the situation is completely different in Northern Ireland. Senator Landy should know that the funding situation in the North of Ireland is that the Administration has no powers to raise fiscal moneys and it is subject to a block grant from Westminster which was cut by a number of billion pounds this year. The Senator should know that the Administration has no control over this decision.

Sinn Féin has taken measures to introduce a social development fund, the social inclusion fund. The property charges to which Senator Landy referred were put in place before Sinn Féin was ever in government in Northern Ireland. It would be important if we are having that discussion——

That is an excuse.

It is not an excuse. On a number of occasions we have called for a debate on the policies in Northern Ireland, of which this is a part, and we would welcome such a debate in the future. To clarify the thinking behind the figure of €75,000, it is Sinn Féin's policy — we are very consistent about it — that the wealthier in our society should be paying extra taxes. Senator Landy and the Minister described this as an interim measure to last for two years. If this is the case, why did the Government not introduce an interim measure which would take 1% of the wealth off the people who have capital in excess of €1 million? That would have been an interim measure which would hit the more wealthy.

However, instead the Government chose to introduce an interim measure which the Senator agreed his party had campaigned against prior to the general election. His party said it was unfair because it hit everybody equally and it was also unfair to the person on a very low income compared to a person living in a mansion. The logic behind the figure of €75,000 was to push this extra tax, which is being forced through by the Government, onto those who are in the higher bracket, as opposed to those in the lower bracket.

Sinn Féin has consistently stated that people earning more than €100,000 should be charged a third rate of income tax at 48%. The logic behind the figure of €75,000 is to make the people who are earning in excess of this figure, the people with more disposable income, pay this type of charge. We made this argument previously and if the Senator had been in the Chamber he would have heard it.

We will be pressing this amendment. The important point is that this is about poverty-proofing. We are not saying that all these criteria have to be absolutely adhered to but rather the committee which will examine the poverty-proofing study should take these points into account. This would be part of the process of examining who are the people on whom this charge impacts and whether they are in a position to pay. It is also a case of asking whether we fully realise what is meant by poverty and what will be the cumulative impact of all these extra charges.

The Government is crowing about not increasing income tax but this does not mean that people's disposable income is not reduced because it will be. Income tax is not being increased but the Government is putting its hands in the pockets of poor people. It is taking more money out of their pockets and it will not be in their bank accounts at the end of the year. As a result, more people will be in a position of poverty because of measures such as this. We argue that every legislative measure should take into consideration all those in the poverty trap. These measures being introduced by the Government will result in more people being in that situation.

Sinn Féin made a mistake by not having separate amendments because we can certainly support the first part but not the second part as it would be wrong to exclude Senators from the measure. The figure of €75,000 is approximately twice the famous average industrial wage. One must have some sympathy for people on the average industrial wage who might own two or three properties such as Deputy Gerry Adams. I feel sympathy for him because he owns a house and a holiday home in Donegal. He has a family home in Belfast——

That has nothing to do with this amendment.

The Minister can enlighten me as to whether he has bought a house in County Louth yet. He will get a massive bill for property tax——

Please stick to dealing with the amendment, Senator.

Will Senator Byrne name the property?

(Interruptions).

I certainly feel sorry for him.

Name the property, Senator.

He has acknowledged on my local radio station that he owned a holiday home in Donegal.

The Senator should stick to the amendment and address the Chair. He knows the rules.

(Interruptions).

There are people who claim to be on the average industrial wage, who own two or three properties. They certainly should be given some consideration.

Now we are dealing with hypothetical properties.

It is in his constituency.

Please allow Senator Norris the opportunity to speak.

I find myself having a great deal of sympathy for what Sinn Féin members have said and with the motivation behind their amendment. The principle of good government would be to poverty-proof legislation. I also said at the time — it was recommended by the Irish Human Rights Commission — that one function of those who undertake research would be to be employed by the Oireachtas to ensure that legislation is at its best. The Irish Human Rights Commission offered to proof legislation from a human rightsstandpoint but its offer was rebuffed by a previous Government. However, it is a very good principle.

If excellent legislation is the ambition then it should be proofed to ensure that the poor, the vulnerable and the weak are protected and also that human rights are protected. If we have the institutions in the State, such as the ESRI and various other groups and also the Irish Human Rights Commission, then let us employ them. Let us bring them in as adjuncts to the political system in order to make legislation more effective, fairer, more just and in the interests of the vast majority of people in the country. I am fully in agreement with that.

With regard to the amount of money involved, a good point was made by Senator Ó Domhnaill and his colleague that it might be wise to separate the issue of the €75,000, which can be debated, and address it on Report Stage, if that is what is decided. We should also sharpen the focus by going for the most clear of those criteria with the support that this is the bare bones of what is recommended by the ESRI.

I heard a very reasonable woman on the radio today. She gave a breakdown of her income and after she had paid the various impositions, taxes and modest essential household outgoings she was left in mortgage arrears and with €5 to spend. If people have a margin of €5 to spend €5 a week is quite significant. I am glad Senator Ó Domhnaill reinforced the point I made earlier on the question of changes in the fuel allowance which are very serious for people on the margins. We are very comfortable and privileged as elected Members of the Oireachtas and we should remember that comfort and privilege do not extend to all citizens of the State.

I was impressed by what Senator Cullinane said about his motivation for getting into politics. It is what gives energy to some of the members of his party. I do not agree with his party. I have never supported it and it has not supported me. Let us have an end to the fantasy about the different application of government North and South of the Border. I say this as somebody who engaged with that fantasy. I thought it was extraordinary that the Administration in Northern Ireland was imposing certain measures in the North of which it was critical of the southern Government.

This matter was effectively resolved, as far as I am concerned, on "The Frontline" when I heard a Member of the other House, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, make the very good point that the budget was not set in Belfast but in an office in Carlisle in northern England.

It was Newcastle upon Tyne.

I ask the Senator to stick to the amendment.

I am addressing a matter that was raised. I am sure the Acting Chairman will give good guidance on this because I have noted her wisdom and it is as if she was born to the role. I am making the point for which she is reproving me. Discussion of the difference in application between the North and South is a partisan argument which does not address the principle of the amendment. I would find it tiresome to have to listen to it any more.

Our budget is bound by the IMF agreement. Our hands are tied.

Senator Norris to continue, without interruption, please.

I hope we can progress and discuss as much of the Bill as possible before the guillotine, which we will see again this evening, is operated. Perhaps we might even succeed if we co-operate. The Minister of State is usually a co-operative and decent person. We might deal with the entire Bill.

We might if we did not repeat things so often.

I do not believe I have repeated myself too much.

The Minister of State has been here for three quarters of an hour and has not made any observations. I ask Senator Bradford to wait until after he has contributed.

The contributions are very interesting. If this index was applied to car tax a huge number of people in gainful employment in the country who are driving to work every day would not pay it. I suspect and fear that hundreds of thousands of people in this country are not in a position to invite friends for a meal once a month. I suspect tens of thousands of people in this country are not in a financial position to buy presents. That is very regrettable and it should be our political aim to reverse that situation but I am trying to be practical.

If the poverty index was applied to motor tax, college fees, health levies——

If the Senator found himself down to the three or four most basic items he might be persuaded to agree.

We have to debate the amendment before us. I take on board what Senator Norris said. The list will have to be refined before it receives further consideration. It will also have to exclude the €75,000 figure.

As has been said, all of us are on reasonably good salaries but significantly less than €75,000. This is an interesting philosophical debate. Everybody aspires to ending poverty in this country and we all know that will happen by getting people back to work. Levies, charges and taxes are difficult burdens on the public but in the overall context of where we find ourselves the household charge is as easy as we can make it. Somebody has to fund the country to pay pensions every week, teachers and people in receipt of social welfare, disability allowance or whatever. We have to be fair.

People are in consistent property. That is the only point we are making.

The Senator referred to Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission, which I read with interest as I did last year. I was taken by what I thought was a reasonable view of the wealth tax situation. We are all aware of people who have assets worth hundreds of thousands of euro who would also fail this test. People might live in fantastic old houses but cannot light a fire or go out for any entertainment. The list is quite arbitrary.

I thank the Senator for bringing forward the concept. I debated the application of the poverty index with him when I was on the other side of the House. I do not think we will reach agreement on it. It is a worthy debate but we must aspire to try to rid the country of poverty by regenerating economic activity and getting people back to work. That is the only real insurance against poverty.

The wealth tax is income linked. One could be asset rich but if one's income is not sufficient one will not be subject to it.

I take the Senator's correction.

Some very useful ideas have been mentioned and clarity has been brought to the proposition before us and the amendments. I want to discuss what this charge is all about and who will pay it. The Bill states anybody who lives in a house rented from a local authority will not pay the charge. The more likely person to fall into this category, to use it as a broad definition, would be living in a local authority house which he or she does not own and will not pay the charge. If a person does not have a local authority house and is on the housing list, is in rented accommodation under RAS or cannot afford to buy a house he or she will not pay the charge.

That is a very good argument for excluding affordable housing.

I am happy to respond to the Senator. Those who own their own homes but cannot pay the mortgage and are getting assistance under the definition of poverty of an exceptional need as used by a community welfare officer will not pay the charge. People living in housing estates which do not have the proper infrastructure, as defined under categories 3 and 4, will not pay the charge. Therefore, there are clear and significant exceptions under which people who, by any recognised measure, are living in poverty will be excluded. Such people will not have to pay this charge.

Senator Norris spoke about moving the debate forward. Although it is not referenced in these amendments, I draw Members' attention to section 12, subsection (1) of which states:

All household charges, late payment fees and late payment interest payable to a local authority pursuant to this Act are placed under the care and management of the local authority concerned.

In other words, local authorities will have the power to remit some or all of the charge in what they deem to be exceptional circumstances.

What this proposal is all about, and what the budget is all about, is keeping this country free of absolute and abject poverty. If we did not have the funding from the EU and the IMF to meet the shortfall in our income, that is what we would be facing. Sinn Féin can talk about people earning less than €75,000 being exempted from the charge, but the reality is that if we do not have the money to run this country, if the €18 billion shortfall is not made up, everybody will be in an extremely difficult place. Without that funding, our schools, hospitals and local authorities will be unable to function.

It is important to bear in mind that this charge is ring-fenced for local authorities and is not going into the general Exchequer. The moneys collected will allow local authorities to provide services locally, such as maintaining footpaths and street lighting and fixing potholes. It is about maintaining local infrastructure. It is about allowing local authorities to continue to provide services to designated areas of low income and significant deprivation under the RAPID programme. These moneys will be used specifically to meet those requirements.

The EU-IMF programme of financial support for Ireland commits the Government to the introduction of a property tax in 2012. The programme reflects the need, in the context of the State's overall position, to put the funding of locally-delivered services on a sound financial footing, improve accountability and better align the costs of providing services with the demand for such services. The drop in State income since 2006 has been in the order of €16 billion. We are spending €18 billion more per annum than we are receiving in taxes. As such, we are in an extremely serious financial place which will require us to take billions out of the economy again next year and for several years thereafter. That is the reality we are facing and the context in which this debate is taking place.

In light of the complex issues involved, a property tax requires a comprehensive property valuation system, which would take time to introduce. Accordingly, to meet the requirements of the EU-IMF programme, the Government is introducing a household charge as an interim measure. The charge is being set at the relatively modest level of €100 for 2012. To mitigate the impact on home owners, the Bill provides that payment of the charge may be effected by four instalments over the course of a year. In addition, provision is made for several exemptions and waivers, which I outlined in detail on Second Stage and again today.

A full property tax will be put in place by the Government in due course. A more detailed examination and consideration of the issues involved, including those raised by Senators today, and the potential impacts on different household tenures and employment circumstances will have to take place in advance of its introduction. In this regard, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, will establish an expert interdepartmental group early in the new year tasked with designing a property tax which is equitable and is informed by previous work in the area. The group will be asked to consider options for the property tax, including assessment criteria, applicability of exemptions and waivers and how the tax should be paid and collected. The group will be assisted in the completion of its work by the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Environment, Community and Local Government. The group will be required to complete its work and make recommendations to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government by mid-2012. Following consideration of its recommendations, the Minister will bring proposals to Government on a full property tax as soon as possible.

Regarding the proposal by the Senator to delay the implementation of the charge until 2013, the EU-IMF programme of financial support commits the Government, as I said, to the introduction of a property tax next year. Accordingly, the household charge will be applied next year as an interim measure. As announced on Monday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, the Exchequer contribution to the local government fund will cease this year and will be replaced by the proceeds of the household charge in 2012. As such, it is imperative that the charge is implemented in order to ensure the funding of locally delivered services is continued on a sound financial footing. This will ensure local authorities are appropriately resourced to deliver the wide range of service which the public needs and expects. In these circumstances, I cannot agree to the Senator's proposal that implementation of the charge be delayed until 2013.

I thank the Minister of State for his sincere reply. I also thank all Senators who contributed to what has been a useful debate on a very important issue. I remain concerned that the groups to which the Minister of State referred do not encompass all of those who will be in a difficult position if this charge is introduced. Take, for example, the case of a person living in a family home without a mortgage. That is not uncommon in rural areas where properties are passed down through generations. Even where such a person is on a very low income, he or she would not be included under the exceptions referred to by the Minister of State.

Section 12 makes provision for such circumstances.

That may be so. However, our amendment No. 5 seeks to provide certainty in this regard by providing a broad definition of poverty which would encompass all of the possibilities. That is why we suggested that a study be done before a charge is introduced.

We stand over the basic principle that a system whereby somebody earning €3,000 per week pays the same charge as somebody earning €300 is very inequitable.

That is why we are introducing a property tax in due course.

Nevertheless, we appreciate the input from all sides of the House. We are willing to withdraw the amendment on the understanding that we may bring forward an alternative on Report Stage. I thank Senators for their very positive contributions on the issues we raised.

I am very pleased that my Sinn Féin colleagues have taken this sophisticated approach to the issue. They will be more successful in so doing and I will certainly support them strongly. I would be honoured to have my name added to their revised amendment.

The Minister of State has been clear and honest with us in his responses. A hint of what is at issue here was given by an earlier speaker who referred to the imminent examination of building ratings. What we are facing now, no matter what pretence is made about it — there has been very little pretence, in fairness — is the reintroduction of rates. This is the preparatory move in that regard. There have been many arguments about that, with many authorities being of the view that it is justifiable. That is what we are moving towards; I have absolutely no doubt about it. The Minister of State appears to me to be nodding, although it is perhaps unfair to put that on the record. I expect he will be open in acknowledging that we are moving towards the introduction of rates and that this charge is part of the process.

I welcome the Minister of State's indication, and it is important that the principle be maintained, that any moneys derived from this tax, which will certainly go through, because the Government has the numbers, will be ring-fenced solely for the provision of local authority services. This is very important. I will not deal in any great length with the other arguments but there are other methods of raising substantially more money with a lot less pain and one of them would be to put, at least, a temporary block on automatic increments in the public service. I am not a person who is naturally antagonistic towards the public service but it seems to me this could provide a lot more money with a lot less pain. I hope the Government will take this suggestion into consideration.

On a point of clarification, as I was in my office, Sinn Féin seemed to propagate the perception that the taxes collected in Northern Ireland are set by some——

On a point of order, we are withdrawing the amendment at this stage so I suggest we should be moving on to discuss the next amendment.

Yes, the amendment is being withdrawn.

It was a point of clarification for all Members.

The Senator can hold on to his single transferable vote speech and we may hear it on the discussion of the next amendment or else next week and the following week and perhaps the week after that. How about that? We have heard it all before.

Is Senator Cullinane finished?

It is on a point of clarification for Members——

The amendment has been withdrawn.

My point is to do with the household charge.

It is to correct the record of the House.

It is to give the correct information, to correct the record of the Seanad. This is a very important issue because it relates to information given to Members that the rates for household charges in Northern Ireland——

On a point of order, we have discussed the amendment and the amendment is being withdrawn at this stage.

Senator Harte was not in the Chamber when it was discussed and we have now moved on.

The rates are set by the local council which——

Senator Harte, the amendment has been withdrawn.

Sinn Féin has given the impression that——

The fiscal powers.

——the average charge in the city of Derry is £1,000.

Senator Harte, you are out of order. Amendment No. 5 has been withdrawn by leave of the House. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, lines 31 to 41, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:

"(3) The sum may be amended by the Oireachtas.".

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 15.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 7, lines 5 to 19, to delete subsections (6) and (7).

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 14.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Ned O’Sullivan.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

The import of the section is that the charge of €100 may be increased by ministerial fiat. If Fine Gael and Labour Party backbenchers are prepared to accept such uncertainty and hand the powers of the Oireachtas over to a Minister, let them do so. As I state almost daily, if they are happy to turn the Dáil and Seanad into rubber stamp Chambers, let them do so.

Fianna Fáil handed over the sovereignty of the country to strangers.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 14.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 4

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 7, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

"(4).—(1) The meaning given to a residential property, as outlined in section 2, shall not be amended save by the Oireachtas.".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 30.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.