Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages
These amendments are grouped. Some of the sections it is proposed to amend are already contained within this new legislation, but a new section extends the boundary beyond an acre. I am sure the Government will have valid reasons to explain why that is important. Normally, though, when ample time is afforded to consider legislation and pre-legislative scrutiny is undertaken in a proper way in committee, we would be able to tease out some of the language in this legislation and consider its text. I would like to do the same here, because there are aspects of the language used in this legislation which it would be important to tease out. However, we have not been afforded that opportunity.
The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, of which I have been a member for some years, was in the middle of pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. Earlier today, we received submissions from local authorities and from experts in the field who have written a report on the legislation which considers aspects such as the equalisation fund and the potential impact of the local property tax. That process has been trumped now because the Government has decided to ram through this legislation. It has decided to do that because it has not got its own act together. I must say that, because the Opposition has facilitated exemptions from pre-legislative scrutiny on several occasions in respect of Covid-19-related Bills. This is not, however, a Covid-19-related Bill. This legislation concerns the local property tax. It is an issue which was supposed to have been examined many years ago and the revaluation date has been deferred repeatedly. This is not an issue, therefore, which has sprung up and taken the Minister by surprise.
We are sitting here now at a quarter past midnight dealing with all sections and all Stages of this Bill. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach was meant to be continuing its pre-legislative scrutiny, but the Bill is being rammed through now for only one reason and that is because the Minister and his Department have not done the preparation necessary to afford the Oireachtas and its members the opportunity to scrutinise this Bill properly. Therefore, the amendments before us need proper scrutiny of their texts and implications. I refer to implications such as those for buildings, for example. I refer specifically to farm buildings, where there might be several outsheds not used for farming purposes. Will those buildings be brought within the scope of this legislation? What will happen to larger properties with acreage? I would like to have teased out questions such as those. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to get to all these amendments and to be able to consider them properly because we are trying to save time.
I have grave concerns with this local property tax, and I have studied it greatly. My colleagues in the Rural Independent Group share these concerns. Many people living in rural areas may have as part of their dwelling an outhouse, such as a garage or a shed, that they may have built when they were starting out and then improved over the years. Now, those people are faced with the prospect of an improved shed, which could be a turf shed with parts of it used for other purposes such as for timber or storage, being looked upon as an asset and a further tax being faced. That is wrong. It is totally wrong.
If we are talking about people doing up the curtilage of their family homes, where they improve the yard and develop outhouses, for example, and if those people are now going to be taxed in that regard, then that is another attack on rural Ireland. It is another attack on rural dwellers. It is another attack on people who have an awful job in first getting planning permission and then in passing percolation tests, because the bar is continually being raised. It is a fact that it is much more cumbersome, awkward and troublesome for those people to clear out their sites, put in their own treatment system, provide their own water and possibly have to pay money to get the ESB connection to supply electricity to that location to enable them to live in the countryside.
It is exactly that which we should be encouraging. We should be encouraging people to keep the lights on in the rural areas and keep life and people living in those areas. The Minister, though, is now hitting those people with a tax on the sheds, outhouses or buildings constructed on the curtilage of their land. I object to that in the strongest possible terms. My colleagues in the Rural Independent Group object to that very strongly as well.
When the local property tax was first introduced, we were told it was intended to improve services and infrastructure, such as roads, across the State. It has not done that. Therefore, I can understand the frustration, anger and bewilderment experienced by families, especially ordinary working families, when they hear the local property tax will be increased and will include sheds, outhouses and, in the case of farm families, farm outhouses and buildings. It is very wrong. People were deceived when the local property tax was introduced because we were told services would be improved as a result.
In my constituency of Laois-Offaly, at least, we are not seeing the benefits of improved services in respect of increased funding for roads. This seems to be an ongoing problem and many counties are in the same boat. It is not right. The local property tax, its purpose and the rationale under which it was introduced must be reviewed. I would go so far as to refer to the deception concerning this local property tax. I state that because we have not seen any improvement in services. It is adding insult to injury to expect ordinary working families now to pay more. Many of these families are hard pressed with mortgages and are receiving very little fairness from banks if they want to restructure mortgages.
We need to bear in mind that this is another heavy financial burden on ordinary working families. They do not see the benefit in paying the property tax, which is the problem. It is why there is so much anger and frustration around property tax.
I support this amendment from the Rural Independent Group. As my colleague has said, when the local property tax was set up, a promise was made to people that improvements in services would be made. It now looks to me that they will be paying much more than what they paid initially and they do not have improved services. In rural areas they certainly have not benefitted from the local property tax; perhaps they have in urban areas but that is something people from urban areas can talk about. I can only speak about the rural constituency I represent, with roads in a shocking state and a dearth of funding for those roads.
In County Cork alone, we have had the lowest relative rate of funding made available to us for roads over many decades, as proven in a recent report published by Cork County Council. I hope both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have read that from cover to cover. It paints a bleak picture as to what has been done to Cork county and it must be discussed fully in the Dáil. That is for a later date.
What improved services have we got from the local property tax? If we are going to look at outside buildings, we need clarity on what is included. This Bill should not pass the Dáil if it includes farm buildings, extensions or little bits and pieces that people might have, such as outside rooms for washing etc. It does not matter what the purpose of them is. This is pointed very much towards being an extra tax on farmers and I am very seriously concerned about that. It is not what the local property tax was meant to be about.
Families are currently struggling greatly. I am hearing more and more stories proving this on my phone and at my weekend clinics. People tell me how they are struggling to make ends meet and the worries they have. Even businesses are starting to feel massive pressure. One businessman I spoke with last week has 13 vans in west Cork and he is talking about taking some of them off the road because fuel costs are crippling him. We are facing a very difficult time so adding more difficulties with increased property taxes would exasperate and anger people greatly. It is not what the local property tax should be for. It should have improved services and perhaps refuse should have been collected for free, for example. Such a service could prove the benefit of the local property tax.
I know there is an allocation of funding under the local improvement scheme and I encourage Ministers to consider that closely. It turns out there are only a few roads done with this in Cork county and I presume that is the same in other counties. It might sound like a lot when an announcement is made totalling millions of euro but when it is broken down into the roads being done in rural communities, the amount is down to practically nothing. There should be greater investment in the local improvement scheme, which is great, in fairness. I do not mean to discredit it as it is good that some money is being spent but there must be far greater investment in future.
I will speak to other amendments later but I will give others an opportunity to contribute. I certainly have grave doubts about what is happening with these changes to the local property tax. I do not support them in any way, shape or form if they end up punishing people, especially those in rural Ireland who are already paying quite a lot in their areas.
I am glad to get the opportunity to support this amendment. As I understand it, the property tax was meant to be a residential tax. It now looks like if the farmer has a henhouse or a dog house, those hens or dogs will be charged the property tax as well. The amount of land around the property is to be increased to a hectare, which is 2.5 acres, which is totally unfair. This is like the fair deal scheme, where the farm is assessed but for everybody else, a residential property is assessed. We are taxing the farmer under the name of the property tax for 2.5 acres, which is totally wrong.
The local improvement scheme in Kerry had 697 roads on the list starting this year and we got funding for seven of them. That is the truth. I have said before that the people of rural Ireland are entitled to a good road to their door just like the people in Dublin 4. We see today how €2.4 million was paid for three buses here in Dublin, as if there are not enough buses in Dublin. They go in sets of four or five up and down every street with only one or two people in them. There is no bus service, meanwhile, for most of rural Ireland. The Government is away with the fairies.
There is no funding for group water schemes or people cannot afford them. As I stated yesterday, water is an essential service. There was much hullabaloo in Dublin about getting free water but people in Kerry cannot get water even if they pay for it. They are being asked to pay €8,000 or €10,000 per house in order to get on a group scheme from Kerry County Council but, lo and behold, Irish Water wants €2,000 added to the fee as well. It is the last straw that breaks the camel's back. There are five group water schemes in Kerry not going ahead because of that. I ask the Minister to tackle Irish Water about the process, which is totally unfair. Water is essential.
There has been much hullabaloo about charges and the people of rural Ireland were not considered at all because they provide their own water. When applying for planning permission to build a house, most people have to drill their own wells or get a supply from a water course etc. That is without any help from the State to provide the service. All it would rather do is stop people building in the first place. These people are providing their own site. In many cases, rural cottages are hardly being built at all in Kerry. We had people like Mr. John O'Donoghue of Farranfore and the late Mr. Paddy Gallagher of Valentia Island, who built many rural cottages around County Kerry. We seem to be going away from that because from 2016 to 2021, there was funding for only 13 rural cottages from approximately 60 applications. The rest have been left to go whistle.
People cannot get a demountable home. It is happening on practically a daily or weekly basis that a farmer - a man or woman - might have a house that is run down and people cannot live in it. We used to have a service where a demountable home could be brought out from the local authority but that is not happening at all in Kerry now. It is saying they do not have the funding for it. It is very wrong. These people may be in their 60s and want to live out their lives where they were born, bred and reared. It is where they have a few cattle, sheep and other animals. They are being denied that right. Any good thing we had, this Government and the most recent previous Governments have got rid of it. The Government now wants to put a charge on the 2.5 acres around a house, which is totally wrong.
It shows for certain we have a Dublin Government looking after Dublin. We heard what the Tánaiste said about how something will have to be done about the property values in Dublin for houses that are worth millions, and that the property tax will have to be reduced for them, whereas it will be increased in the rural areas and counties like Kerry. This is despite us not having the services people in the urban areas have. I am supporting this amendment because the people of rural Ireland are being let down again and this is another attack.
I too am supporting this amendment which we have moved already. The property tax came in with all kinds of promises, and everything else, and all kinds of issues. There have been ongoing debates about the amount of property tax people are paying in Dublin, the value of the property and the money going to rural roads. The fact of the matter is it is not going anywhere. The amount of waste going on in all Departments is just shocking. Fair play is fine play with me any day of the week. It is impossible for people to build a house now in Dublin. That the Minister says affordable houses can cost €440,000 or so is crazy. We are going to have to look at this and evaluate it and have a proper, meaningful debate. Most of the legislation we have passed, including the climate Bill earlier today, is driving up the cost of building houses. All the materials for building, or many of them, are oil-based and timber-based or whatever.
The amendment is another totally regressive step and another noose around the necks of the country people. It is just not good enough. We have tried it here. I do not know what Fine Gael has against these people. The former Minister in this area, Phil Hogan, brought in the septic tank charge. He tried to demonise rural dwellers and portray them as polluters of the ground. The septic tank and the waste disposal system will be on the site. A minimum of 0.6 of an acre is needed now to build a house with a septic tank but they certainly will be in the curtilage and inside the 2.5 acres.
As to the property tax in Dublin, you have your services. Unlike in England, people must pay for the refuse but you have services. However, there are no services whatsoever in rural Ireland. A person must put in their own system - I am talking about existing houses here - and maintain it. By hell, people do maintain these systems because the last person in the country who wants to have a sewage system that is not working properly is the householder and their family. That horrible charge was put on those systems. Then there was what I called the "fiver Friday" scheme, where it was announced the charge would come down to €50 and we were told we would get a grant. Again, as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said about the money for the local improvement schemes, there was nothing to support the grants. I do not know anyone in County Tipperary who got the grant. I think we did eight, ten or maybe 12 inspections per year. It was just a total hijack and another con job to try to portray the rural people as being dirty. In fact, the main problem, as has been proven up and down the country, if the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, or An Taisce wanted to see it, is the local authorities. An Taisce is on again tonight asking the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications not to accept the amendments. If An Taisce wanted to see it, it would find the real polluters are the local authorities, maybe not in every town and village but in the vast majority of them, because their systems are antiquated, not functioning properly and unfit for purpose. It is not the rural dwellers, because as I have said, they look after their own.
The idea now is to extend this tax to the curtilage and to outbuildings. On outbuildings, many of these houses may have been converted from detached houses and been covered with corrugated iron and they may have to have a well close by so there must be a pump house. Some people got grants to upgrade their well. It was not many but I know of a few who did. There was a grant scheme if a mains did not pass the house. If the person had a well then he or she got a grant to upgrade it, and rightly so. These outbuildings may be utility rooms or a garage for the car. Like it or not, a person cannot leave any kind of property outside, from the lawnmower to any kind of utensils, because of the roaming gangs who use the motorways. I will not attribute them to any particular place but they have great access to the country and they plunder, steal and rob, so everything must be secure. Now, if a person has a secure house, he or she is going to be penalised for it.
What kind of a vendetta has the Government against the people of rural Ireland? These are the plain people who build their own houses, have housed themselves, and pay their taxes, rates and everything. The Government will not let them drive because they cannot get a theory test. Drivers with learner plates have been penalised. Now it is hitting them again with all kinds of carbon taxes and as others have said, there are no public services. Why make this attack on rural dwellers? They are the plain people of Ireland and are good people and proud people. They did not ask to be housed by any local authority or government but did it themselves. Many of them got county council loans like I did myself when I built the house back in 1983 or 1984. I was glad to get it. Many of these people are still paying mortgages to have their houses. Their noble aspiration is to have a decent house for their family and themselves. If they have 2.5 acres they will be hoping to get a site for some of their family. When they go for the planning on that, they are hit with massive fees for it. You must get engineer's reports and waste water treatment plants. Lo and behold, if An Taisce hear you are at it, it will want you to get an environmental impact statement and an archaeological dig. It is victimisation. I will not use the word I used earlier but it is definitely segregation and mistreatment of rural dwellers. It is totally unacceptable in this day and age. One thing is piled on the other. The farmer cannot spread the slurry or the nitrogen or whatever else; instead, he must follow all the rules and regulations. Despite that, there are many towns, including 30 I could name in the south of my county, which have inadequate sewage treatment. Raw sewage is belching into our rivers, lakes and seas and here we are crucifying, penalising, victimising and stigmatising the people of rural Ireland.
It is a shocking indictment of the Government. I do not know who comes up with these ideas and drafts this legislation. I do not want to blame the drafters or the public officials but we must have fair play. As I have said, fair play is fine play with me but not this relentless attacking and undermining of the good people of rural Ireland. These people do not ask for a house, for free water or for anything. The Government should leave them alone. It should get off our backs. It should get the monkeys of An Taisce and the EPA off our backs, and have them look after what they should be looking after.
This is exactly to do with the amendment. The amendment from the Rural Independent Group concerns how we are being unfairly portrayed as I do not know what and how the Government is trying to extract more money from rural people. You cannot get blood out of a stone. They are struggling and being put to the pin of their collar just to live and pay their way. They want to be left alone. We cannot have €2 million paid for fancy buses that are driven by hydrogen and combinations of batteries and everything else. There were people today running onto them to see what kind of seats they had. A seat on a bus is a seat on a bus. It just needs safety belts, like any bus. There is no talk about how they are going to run. I hope there will be a push board on the back of it for when the bus stops for lack of charge or hydrogen so that passengers can push it out of the way if it stops in the middle of the street somewhere and blocks the traffic.
"To hell or to Connacht" is the mantra of this Government for the people of rural Ireland. It has never changed since Cromwell's time. The Government has us discussing this legislation in the middle of the night like the Peep o' Day Boys and is forcing it through under guillotine. It is scandalous. The people of rural Ireland have had enough. We have people outside tonight protesting about what has been done to them all over the country, both urban and rural. However, this relentless, consistent attack on rural Ireland must be outed and stopped because we are not asking for anything except to be left alone to live in peace. We comply with all the regulations. We are peaceful and support An Garda Síochána and all the other functions but enough is enough and we are not going to accept any more. The Government will have civil unrest if it keeps at this craic. Is that what it wants? I do not know what masters the Government is serving. Is this about Europe and the Lisbon treaty, which we voted on twice because we did not accept the people's vote the first time? I am the bigger eejit because I canvassed for both of them, although I found out my mistake. This is an outrageous attack on the people of rural Ireland. It is dividing and segregating communities into urban versus rural. It is not a good thing for society and for social life or anything else, going forward. We are a small island and we should all be able to live together with a modicum of fair play.
I have been in building all my life. I support this amendment. To get down to brass tacks, what the Minister has done shows complete disregard for people in rural areas. I have lived in a rural area all my life and I hope to live there for the rest of my life.
If we take the price of a serviced site in a city and apply that to a serviced site in a county, to make it profitable for construction last year, a serviced site in Limerick cost €17,000. That is what it worked out at to make sites profitable for building homes to be sold at affordable prices. The price for the same site in a rural area is a minimum of €50,000. The costs of services include €10,000 for a treatment system, €3,000 to Irish Water to get connected to the system and €6,000 or €7,000 to the local authorities to break a gap in the owner's field. Somebody living in Limerick city would need to pay €17,000 to get a serviced site, even if he or she wanted to build the house. Applying that to a person living in County Limerick the minimum cost is €80,000. We must then consider services for treating sewerage and supplying supply in the city. People living in the county area pay for a treatment system so that we do not have the local authority poisoning the waterways. A report carried out recently by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, showed that the biggest polluters in Ireland are the local authorities.
We have asked for investment in our towns and villages in County Limerick. We have been asking for the Askeaton sewerage system to be upgraded for 33 years now. Successive Governments, with which the Minister was involved, have promised sewerage systems in Askeaton, Oola, Hospital and Dromcolliher and have never once honoured those promises. At the same time, the Government believes it is okay to give €5.5 billion to Irish Water over five years.
I spoke earlier to the Taoiseach about Fedamore in County Limerick where people have been on a boil notice for 16 months. They are waiting for drinking water, for which each household now has to pay €60. Local property tax is supposed to be for services in local areas, including good footpaths, roads and water supplies. The Government has not honoured any of this. Now, it is talking about pumping water from the River Shannon all the way to Dublin because the population in Dublin is increasing by a huge number. The population of Limerick city and county is also increasing but the Government is not investing in sewerage systems in our towns and villages. That is what local property taxes are for but the Government is expanding the cities.
As I said, I am county born. I am a culchie and proud of it. That is my culture. Ireland is the best country in the world for looking after people's culture, with the exception of the Government, which does not care about cultures. I am involved in fundraising for different charities that the Government is not able to support. This is where the Government will apply tax. People will see vintage vehicle owners in Ireland out raising funds. People house their vehicles in sheds close to their homes. They go around the country in these vehicles raising money for people who are suffering from cancer and different ailments.
A bunch of young lads have just cycled from Mizen Head to Malin Head in honour of their friend, Cathal Scanlon, who passed away at 22 years of age. His birthday would be today. They are raising money for the TLC4CF cystic fibrosis charity and their cycle will finish tomorrow. Through his local property tax, the Minister is trying to tax the buildings in which people raising money for charity store the machinery, lawnmowers, bicycles, cars and the vintage vehicles they use to raise money for charities. If a hectare of land - 2.2 acres - was moved into a city base, 150 houses could be built on it. What the Government wants to do is tax rural Ireland.
I told the Minister yesterday that the price of building houses had gone through the roof. The Government is already getting 13.5% VAT on every single house that is built and every renovation that is carried out in this country. It is taking local authority fees on top of that. The Government gives nothing back but it keeps taking. We do not have the basic roads we need to drive on to go to work, take our children to school or get the products from the farmers to the co-operatives and different stores in order that we can be fed. The Government does not even want us to have roads. It is more interested in importing stuff and closing everyone down. Local property tax was meant to be put back into communities and spent locally. It went to a central fund and the Government gave us the crumbs. Now, it is talking about giving it to the local authority to spend it locally.
Rural people and SMEs have had enough. A figure of 51% of people in Ireland are employed by SMEs and 37% of people live in rural areas. We are paying double and triple the amount of tax that people living in cities pay because we have no services. The Government is now trying to tax us more.
When this amendment is voted on tonight, I hope everyone watching will see the rural Deputies who are voting against this amendment and with the Government. When they knock on people's doors and say they are here to represent them and that they are with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and this and that, I hope people remember their names. I hope they run them from their doors and that those Deputies drive away on roads with bad potholes and bust every spring in their cars. They deserve every bit of it. The Government invests nothing.
I will mention this once more. Askeaton has waited 33 years for an upgrade to the sewerage system. The local authority is pumping raw sewerage into the River Shannon. The deal in Dromcolliher is that the biggest polluter is the local authority. The sewerage system in the village of Hospital in County Limerick is at full capacity and what did the Government come back with? It said it will upgrade the sewerage systems but it will not allow extra capacity. That means that towns and villages in the rural areas of County Limerick are not allowed to expand. whereas the cities are allowed to expand. The Government is putting no investment into the towns and villages in rural Limerick.
I am in favour of this amendment. I am delighted that the Rural Independent Group is the biggest voice. Six of us represent five counties but it looks now like we are representing and speaking out for the whole country because we are speaking sense. We are from rural areas. The Minister may notice one thing about the Rural Independent Group. We are all self-employed. We know what is happening on the ground because we live this day in and day out. I ask him to reconsider what he is doing, create equality between rural and city areas, break the balance moneywise and give a tax break to people in rural towns and villages.
We are paying the most carbon tax because we have on infrastructure and we have to drive to go to work.
The Government takes nothing into account because all the services are in Dublin. Someone can go 100 yards and have a shop, taxi or Luas. He or she can head out to Bray or Greystones on the DART as well. We do not have those luxuries; we have to drive everywhere. We cannot walk or cycle because it is not safe. I ask the Minister to try to provide equality for the rural areas, towns and villages as well as the cities. He should equalise the funding and give a tax break to the 37% of the people in this country who pay the most taxes and get the least services.
I followed with interest the contributions from the previous Deputies and I want to come in on some of the points that have been made. It is quite interesting listening to the debate and I sympathise with some of the ailments Deputies identify from their constituencies where funding and various supports are needed. I also represent at least a partly rural constituency of Kildare North, including areas such as Carbury, west Kildare, Sallins, Kill, Bodenstown and beyond in Prosperous and Clane. We have any amount of rural areas so I am no stranger to the challenges these areas face.
On the Bill, we all awaited with some trepidation the review that was announced earlier in the year. We knew it was a long time coming and it was probably overdue if truth be told. The Minister got it right with the revaluation, banding and the levies that will now be charged. By and large, people will pay the same if not a little bit less than they might have done before in some cases. Some houses that were outside of the loop will be brought in but they had a good run. Some houses that were newly built got a number of years before they became eligible at all.
As I said, I listened with interest to my colleagues from other rural constituencies and it strikes me that perhaps their arguments are misdirected. It is not that their arguments do not have merit because they do but perhaps they should take up those issues with their county manager or the chief executive of the local authority. I do not understand how it is that we on Kildare County Council, when I served on it, were able to secure funding from the local property tax for a series of local improvements and that has not been possible in other counties. Perhaps they should speak to the councillors they are connected with - and I am sure other Independent Deputies work locally with councillors - or speak to the county manager. I can share the story of how we made the property tax work for us in the Kildare area. If that is of any assistance to other Deputies, that may be where they should direct their efforts rather than in this House, which organises the law as to how the property tax is collected and then redistributed. In fact, a lot of money flowed out of urban areas into rural areas to rebalance them.
For example, I mention the Naas electoral area, which I was proud to represent and I still represent, albeit as part of a wider constituency. We sat down at the beginning of the 2014 term and considered how we would collect and spend the LPT. The first thing we considered was that we had five rural villages within the district and all of them were lacking in amenities. They had been deprived for some time or they had not caught up. We set about a programme where we would fund the parks department to put a playground into each of those rural villages, one per year, over the five-year term. We did that and Eadestown, Ballymore Eustace, Sallins, Kill and Caragh all have playgrounds now. They are all rural villages and they were all funded to get solid playgrounds. That was an investment in amenities that are up and running and that are used by ordinary working families, as was referred to earlier, every day. I often wonder what an extraordinary working family is but perhaps that is for another day. In any event, people use them. They are the real and tangible fruits of the LPT being collected and spent by local authorities in a solid and meaningful way in consultation with local councillors. That is exactly what we did.
When we had spent that money, we examined where we would go next. I heard local roads improvements mentioned earlier. They are needed, including on the road I live as much as any other road in the country. Again, we consulted our area engineer and invited him into our council meeting as an area committee. We also consulted among ourselves as we all had local knowledge and we asked the area engineer to nominate the roads we felt most needed repair. His technical expertise copper-fastened that and assisted us if there were borderline choices. Again, we put money, through the local property tax, into local road improvements and projects and a series of roads across the district. Every year since, those roads have been resurfaced or repaired. I received a text from a constituent, Mr. Shay Davoren of Ballymore Eustace, this evening to tell me that the road near Tipperkevin where he lives had been resurfaced today again. That was a road that had not seen attention for 30 years prior to these initiatives that we were able to put in place from 2014 on as a result of the LPT bringing funding into the area and the local authority.
We had spent money on roads so we thought about what other projects were deserving of funding. As every Deputy will be aware, there are hard-working groups such the Tidy Towns committees, local history and heritage groups, festivals, folk groups and residents associations. We decided that they would probably know how better to spend the moneys than we would in many cases so we looked to increase and augment the grants they got. We did this in consultation with the council's finance department, where there was a list of those who applied for the council grants etc. every year, including heritage, festival and residential grants. That meant there was a degree of scrutiny or rigour about it. We doubled the grant they got, again using LPT moneys.
By the end of the term, we were almost wondering where else we could spend the money. Perhaps we were a well organised unit and we were certainly very collegial, working well together on a cross-party basis. We worked with our area engineer, the council finance department and the county manager. I do not say we were exemplary or that there was anything unique about the group other than that it worked hard and worked well together. That is an example of the LPT being collected and distributed through a local authority directly back to the people in rural areas. Our urban areas benefited as well, including Naas, but people in rural areas got a real and tangible result. They got physical infrastructure in the playgrounds, they got festival grants, they got the roads resurfaced and they were able to tap into that for any amount of services that were required. I was delighted to be able to turn around to the people at the end of five years and say to them that we had delivered for them in our areas. All of us on that area committee were able to do that.
I highlight that as an example of what could and should be done around the country. I do not know why it is a difficulty elsewhere, as has been suggested is the case. If it is a difficulty, perhaps it is not this Chamber it should be addressed in but with the county managers or finance departments of the individual local authorities. The model works well and I see no reason it cannot be rolled out across the country. I was a convert to the local property tax, having seen it work so well for five years across my area of Naas.
I want to deal with the substance of the amendment before I deal with some of the additional points that were made. The Bill provides for the amendment of the definition of "residential property" in two ways. First, the part of the adjoining land to be valued with the House where that land exceeds 1 acre will be specified to be that part that is most suitable for occupation and enjoyment with the House. Second, the reference to "acre" is being changed to "hectare".
There seems to be some misunderstanding of this section and of the amendment that has been tabled. The existing definition of "residential property" is being restructured to make it clearer and more readable and this may have contributed to the impression that there is a significant change in approach. Most of the amended definition is contained in the existing definition and, therefore, there will be no change for the vast majority of property owners.
Since the LPT was introduced, the value of a property has included any associated buildings or structures such as sheds, garages and any outdoor areas that are adjoining, such as yards and gardens. However, where the area occupied by the elements other than the House exceeds 1 acre, it is only the area up to 1 acre that must be valued. This applies to all residential properties, irrespective of whether they are located in a rural or an urban area. This is the position and the amendments to the definition of "residential property" do not change this treatment.
What is being addressed in this Bill is that the current definition leaves open the question of the part of the land that should be valued as the allowable acre where the land exceeds 1 acre. This is at variance with the treatment applied to the capital gains tax exemption for the disposal of a person's principle private residence and the definition of "residential property" for stamp duty purposes.
In these cases, the part of the acre to be exempted or treated as residential property is the part that is most suitable for occupation with the residence. Typically, that would be the part closest to the home, but not necessarily so, depending on the particular facts and circumstances. The reason for including such a provision in tax law is to prevent any property owner seeking to include part of the adjoining land furthest from the house in the allowable acre, as this is likely to be the least valuable part. In practice, this amendment will only have implications for those property owners whose grounds adjoining their houses are well in excess of 1 acre. The treatment is being changed to align it with capital gains tax and stamp duty.
Statutory references to the measurement of land in acres are not in line with EU standards. The correct current measurement for land is hectares. The hectare equivalent of one acre is 0.4047 ha. The purpose here, then, is to provide clarity in cases where a property exceeds an area of 0.4047 ha, which is equivalent to 1 acre. In other words, therefore, the area of land is not being affected by this change. Charges have been made here tonight which are typical of the approach taken to this amendment. It has been suggested that we are, via this section of the Bill, seeking to expand the area which will be subject to the local property tax regime. That is not the case. What is happening is simply a change in the way of measuring the area. The scale of the area has not changed.
Among other points raised this evening, many speakers referred to the bill for local property tax continuing to be one that many people find difficult to pay. I accept, as well, the suggestion that this is a bill which continues to cause anxiety and worry for many. Again, however, the changes being made to widen the bands and cut the rate of the local property tax are being enacted to ensure that we have done all we can to try to ensure that this will be an affordable bill for as many homeowners as possible. Most homeowners will not see an increase in their local property tax bill due to the changes in this legislation. For those who will see an increase, many will experience an increase of approximately one band. I again accept that for many people this is a bill which is hard to pay. However, we have made these changes to try to do what we can to make the local property tax bill as affordable as possible for many after a period of nearly eight years in which property prices have increased.
Regarding some of the charges made, I emphasise that the area concerned has not changed. Only the unit of measurement has changed. The other changes made regarding the definition of the area or residential property that will be subject to the tax seek to clarify the situation as it is now. Therefore, when I hear charges being made by some Deputies that this is an attack on rural Ireland and on particular forms of accommodation, those making these charges either have not read this section of the Bill or perhaps do not understand it. I appreciate that many elements of this Bill are technical and that is why an explanation is merited. At least some of the Deputies making such a claim here tonight, however, have not bothered to read the section and are quite happy to misinterpret it. They come in here then just to make an unfounded charge. For some Deputies who have done that this evening, that is all this is about.
I heard some Deputies speaking on behalf of the Rural Independent Group saying that they are against this charge and that they also want more money from it. What is that to offer to the people on whose behalf they are speaking here this evening? One Deputy said that he hopes people are watching this debate. The hour is either very late or very early and viewers may be few, but I ask those who are watching to consider what these Deputies are offering. They are suggesting that they want to get rid of the local property tax and that they want more money from it at the same time. That is what they are offering.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to be here when Deputy Mattie McGrath made his contribution. He referred to a "noose around the necks". What kind of language is that to use on an issue like this? What kind of an image is that to use in a debate on taxation? I know how important taxation is. God knows, I know how changes like this affect so many. The reason Deputy Mattie McGrath uses that kind of language, however, is because he has nothing else to offer. I am glad he is here in the Chamber to allow me the opportunity to say that the language he used yesterday, in respect of other legislation, in this House was disgusting, cynical and disgraceful. It is all too typical of Deputy Mattie McGrath, given how little else he has to offer, that he would come into this House and use that kind of language again.
If we want to have a debate, which we do, and do so regularly, concerning the pros and cons of legislation, at least let us try to do that on the basis of some facts. If Deputy Mattie McGrath cannot be bothered to do that, then maybe he might just reflect for a moment on the language he uses and what that language means. The language he uses demeans him, it demeans the argument he is putting forward and it demeans the people he pretends to represent.
We read and researched this legislation. Then we tabled an amendment to the Bill, which we are entitled to do. We are thankful for having been allowed to speak on it. I stand over our issues in this regard. We are again dancing to European tunes. It is now 0.4047 hectare because of a European desire. The Minister would of course know nothing about this, but the typical cottage and associated acre have strong connotations for people. The charge of this being "a noose around people’s necks" is commonly used about the pressures of paying bills. It is not meant to be anything to do with anyone self-harming or anything else. If the Minister dispensed with his fancy language and fancy spin and went down the country, then he would understand what goes on in rural Ireland. I will not be lectured to, dictated to or insulted by the Minister. The people will deal with him in good time and they are fairly sick and tired of the Government playing to different tunes.
Words were attributed to me that I never uttered. If the Minister had bothered to check the video which exists, and it is still online where everybody can see it, he would know that I never used those words.
No, the Minister has just got into it. I would please just like to have one moment. The Minister has gone into this matter and he is regurgitating words attributed to me by journalists. Those are the selfsame journalists who have been paid handsomely during the Covid-19 debate, as well as newspapers and other publications, to do the Government’s spin and narrative for it. The journalists attributed those words to me. Anybody who looks at it, will know that I never used those words. I refer to the A-word and everything else. I would not utter it and I never did. I will take no lectures from a pompous and arrogant Minister at this hour of the night.
-----from the people that they represent to try to do the best they can on their behalf. Those people require us and look to us to respect each other. We may have radically different methods of expressing ourselves and use different political language, but I urge people to please let us have a bit of mutual personal respect.
We are dealing with amendment No. 2 in the names of the Deputies from the Rural Independent Group. I see that Deputy Doherty is indicating.
We will all be glad to get back to the Dáil Chamber in Leinster House where we can all see each other better at such a late hour.
Deputy Lawless made a very articulate contribution on how the process works in his local authority, which is good. I am sure councillors were doing what he described before the introduction of the local property tax, providing services such as surfacing roads and ensuring amenities were available to local communities. I know that with my own council and across the board, particularly with those 21 councils depending on the equalisation fund, the grants that had been available were reduced in an amount equal to the property tax collected. That is the reality of what happened.
The legislation we are discussing tonight increases the taxation on 770,000 homes. It is important to remember that, as the line being worked out by the Government is that the majority of households will not see an increase. That is absolutely true. Only 11% of households are estimated to see a decrease and I am sure those people will welcome it. There will be 670,000 households that will see an increase in the local property tax, with another 100,000 households also taken into the scope. It is not a small amount of additional taxation that is to be levied on households.
For some, €100 here or €200 there is not much but some others could be struggling to keep the roof over their own head. They could be struggling to keep bread in the cupboards and food on the table. There are matters we will come to later relating to deferrals and the interest that accumulates and so on but I want to get to the substance of the legislation. This goes to the point I made earlier.
What is happening tonight is absolutely appalling. The Minister knows I engage with pre-legislative scrutiny for Bills because even when one supports legislation - we do not support this Bill - it is important to tease out aspects of that legislation so the record will always stand in what was considered and meant by a certain element or section. Last night, a completely unrelated Bill passed through this House and I had reason to look at Second Stage, Committee Stage and Report Stages in both the Dáil and the Seanad because it is where we see the aspects teased out. All too often, sections are brushed over rather than properly considered.
In my opening contribution I stated that the definition in this section is very similar to what was in the original Bill. The main change relates to acreage. As the Minister mentioned, the area is still one acre but it is not the acre that immediately surrounds the house and it will be calculated excluding the footprint of the property in question. There has been a change. The earlier elements, relating to land, outhouses, sheds, etc., are now phrased in a different way. The original 2012 Act dealt with all of this in a simple definition of residential property.
There is a reason for this and I ask the Minister to outline to the Dáil that reason. We can all guess or second-guess why the Revenue Commissioners or the Department have suggested there must be a change to the local property tax. It would have been easy to put in the definition again but there is now a different way of calculating the tax. It is not now just the immediate acre around the house and this is to allow other property to be captured, such as a garden shed or outhouse, that may be outside the vicinity. It is therefore a way of increasing the level of taxation on a home. I would like to hear from the Minister on this, as we would normally do in pre-legislative scrutiny. We were not given the opportunity to tease this out in a wider way but what was the rationale behind this change?
I thank the Deputy and I will deal with his points. I accept that for many people, a bill of €100 is a lot, and that is why we have put in place the changes that the Deputy acknowledged in the Bill. The Deputy spoke about the future of this tax and the people of his own county of Donegal. On one hand he said he was concerned about the future revenue that the people of Donegal, whom he represents, will get from this tax, but he has also indicated he wants to abolish the tax. I put it to the Deputy there is an inconsistency in that approach. He is worried about the effect on the revenue that would be seen by the people in Donegal but he is not worried enough to keep the tax and he wants to abolish it. It begs the question that if the Deputy is worried about revenue, where will it be found? I know the Deputy has answers to that question.
There is a change being made here and I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that this change is required to make clearer what area of land will be taxed. I am not making any change here with a view to trying to increase the tax raised on any property subject to this tax.
I know the Minister fully understands our position because we present it every year in our alternative budget. Local authorities should be funded by central government. When this legislation passed the Oireachtas and came into effect in 2013, the Government gave with one hand by charging property tax on the residents in local authorities and then took with the other hand the grant that had been provided. It is not a case of leaving a local authority starved. The Minister knows this and if we want to have a sensible, honest and fair debate, we should have it rather than trying to misrepresent others.
The issue we have with this tax relates to the equalisation fund. Deputy Lawless made his contribution, as I mentioned. Last week, Oireachtas Members met the senior executive of Donegal County Council and the director of finance, who gave an indication of the finances of the county. We went through all the different programmes that any local authority would have at any given time. It was made very clear that Donegal County Council was in a very difficult position.
With a review of the local property tax we will see an increase of revenue from households that will pay additional tax but that will not benefit the local authority by a cent. I have raised this matter with the Minister time and again. The same scenario will apply to 21 local authorities across the board. There is an increased charge for the residents of the county but there will not be an increase in the amount of money available to the local authority to service those people.
I take the point on the reason Revenue is seeking the change and that is the substance of the amendment. We will deal with some of the other matters later.
I am not sure what I said to the Deputy that made him think in any way that I was not making a serious contribution or implying that he does not have some answers to the questions I raise, as I know he does. The net point is still that if this tax was abolished, there would be a decrease in the revenue made available for the Department or local authorities. If this tax was abolished, we would not see the €640 million that would be raised. I acknowledge that for some people there will be a higher tax bill and for many people it will be an unchanged bill that is already difficult to pay. If we abolish the tax, there would be a reduction of €640 million for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and that ultimately affects the money that local authorities get. It is a key point in the debate.
Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Carol Nolan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Violet Wynne.
Ivana Bacik, Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Gary Gannon, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Alan Kelly, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Murphy, Verona Murphy, Gerald Nash, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Cian O'Callaghan, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Matt Shanahan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith, Duncan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Leo Varadkar, Jennifer Whitmore.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 9, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:“(d) a liable person forms a view that the property has been damaged as a result of the use of defective concrete blocks,”.
Táimid ag plé le section 18 den Bhille agus tá seo ag déileáil le tithe atá impleachtaí ó thaobh mica agus pyrite ag baint leo agus nach dtagann faoin cháin seo sa reachtaíocht seo. An cheist atá agam ná cad iad na coinníollacha a chaithfear dul tríothu le díolúine a fháil ón cháin seo? Nuair a fheictear na coinníollacha sin, tá siad iontach deacair agus tá costas ag baint leo fosta.
Section 18 deals with the exemption for homeowners whose houses have been affected by mica or pyrite. However, when one looks more deeply at the conditions attached to that one can see it is very difficult and, at this point, very costly for people to satisfy these conditions to ensure they are exempt from the local property tax.
In my constituency of Donegal, this is a major issue and Deputy Mac Lochlainn has been campaigning for years on the mica redress scheme and the fact it is not fit for purpose. The families affected face huge challenges to be deemed eligible for the scheme in the first instance, and with the costs involved for them to have their houses restored to a livable condition, even if they are eligible for the scheme. That is why we in this party will continue to campaign with the local mica action group and thousands of people not only in my own home county of Donegal but right across the island of Ireland. It was best reflected in the Business Post poll, which showed the people got behind those families, their campaign and their demand, because they can understand the heartbreak those families are going through. The least we can do is ensure that under this legislation, which the Minister knows I do not support, properties affected by mica will not have the local property tax levied on them. These properties are literally crumbling before people's eyes and are in some cases dangerous to inhabit, but the families have no other option but to do so at this point.
Section 18(10D) states that a residential property that has been damaged as a result of the use of defective concrete blocks in its construction will be exempt from local property tax.
That is only if they meet certain conditions, however. These conditions are set out in section 18 and include situations where "the property has been or is being remediated" or, under section 10D(1)(a), if "a confirmation of eligibility in relation to the property has been issued". What does "confirmation of eligibility" mean? Under section 10D(6), "confirmation of eligibility" has the meaning given to it by the regulations that gave effect to the current and flawed redress scheme where the applicant can only have eligibility confirmed once they have made an application to the local authority that includes an engineer’s report confirming damage caused by mica and pyrite.
To spell that out to the Minister, his colleagues on the Government side and those whose homes have been damaged by mica and pyrite, under this legislation homeowners will be required to submit an engineer’s report. At this point, for these homeowners that means forking out €6,000 for that report. To qualify for the LPT exemption, they would have to stump up €6,000. To put it another way, if homeowners whose houses are crumbling around them as a result of the mica scandal are unable to fork out €6,000 from their own pockets for an engineer’s report, they will be charged the tax. They cannot be deemed eligible otherwise, even though their homes are not safe and a physical inspection of their homes can show they have mica and have lost their value. They will not be liveable unless a 100% redress scheme is delivered.
I hope the Minister can see that this situation does not make any sense. Requiring the engineer’s report to qualify for the LPT exemption when such a report currently costs several thousand euro, is nonsensical. It is not only that, however. Even if there was no upfront cost, we expect that will be delivered when the working group completes its work. As I said, however, we need much more than that. We need a 100% redress scheme.
It takes significant time to complete stage one of the application process for eligibility to be determined. It can take a lot of effort and cause much frustration for homeowners as questions and queries are being submitted all the time. I will give an example. The best guesstimate is that approximately 6,000 properties have been impacted by mica in our home county of Donegal. Yet, approximately only a couple of hundred applications were made for eligibility for the scheme. The other 5,000 properties and hundreds on top of that would, therefore, be ineligible for this local property tax exemption. In some cases, if they fall into the category of the 770,000 people who would be subject to an increase, they could see their local charge going up.
For that reason, Deputy Mac Lochlainn and I have tabled amendments from Sinn Féin in order that homeowners affected by issues with mica and pyrite can apply for an exemption through self-assessment, with the Revenue Commissioners putting in place guidelines to police it or look at what is required in terms of the application process. Once the Government has introduced a 100% redress scheme for those homeowners, something for which we will continue to fight and argue, the Revenue Commissioners can look back to verify that those who applied for exemptions through self-assessment were eligible. The amendments we have tabled are sensible and necessary to ensure that homeowners affected by mica are not charged the LPT. I urge the Minister to accept these amendments in the spirit they were put forward.
Amendments Nos. 5, to 7, inclusive, will allow homeowners whose houses have been damaged by mica and pyrite to apply for the exemption for the local property tax on a self-assessed basis. Amendment No. 5 basically adds, "a liable person forms a view that the property has been damaged as a result of the use of defective concrete blocks". Amendment No. 6 will allow for the Revenue Commissioners to draw up the criteria for the application process, including the information the applicant would need to provide. Amendment No. 7 allows for the exemption to last for a period of ten years as opposed to six years under the legislation.
The LPT is self-assessed. That is at the core of this taxation. Anybody who is paying the tax must, therefore, value their property themselves. They must make a determination, using the guidelines outlined by the Revenue Commissioners, by checking properties that sold in their local area and then deciding the value to be placed on their property and the acre that surrounds it. They then submit that to the Revenue Commissioners in good faith and that valuation is placed on the house.
The Revenue Commissioners have the power, however, and have used the power, to ensure that people are not taking a hand and are not abusing this self-assessment system. They have the power to say that a person's valuation is wrong and should have been different, and therefore, his or her tax liability has increased or he or she must pay additional taxation for years in the past. That is fine; that is how it works.
We are not allowing the principle of self-assessment for homes that are uninhabitable as a result of mica, however. We are not allowing people to say theirs is one of the 6,000 homes in County Donegal or the hundreds in counties Mayo, Clare, Sligo or elsewhere that are affected by mica. Homeowners will make the declaration to the Revenue Commissioners that their home is affected and they are, therefore, exempt, in full knowledge that the Revenue Commissioners have their details and application and have waived this tax with regard to their home. If people do not apply for that remediation scheme, which all homeowners will do if it is fit for purpose, Revenue has the power at a later stage to claw back the tax that was foregone because of an exemption that may or should not have been provided at that time. That principle applies to the 1.8 million homes across the State. Why should we not, therefore, also take the homeowners whose houses are affected by pyrite and mica at their word?Let us give the Revenue Commissioners, a body about which I have spoken many times with the highest respect because they do their work very well and diligently, the same power they have for every other home to be able to look back and see if the valuation or exemption was the correct one to apply for.
The Minister might at this point provide clarity on the overpayment of the LPT. He will be familiar with the legislation in 2013 that allowed for the correction of an overvaluation or undervaluation. A person could, for instance, decide that his or her house was valued at a certain level and was, therefore, liable for tax band 3 or €315. However, that person may have found out from local knowledge that it was overvalued and he or and should have been in band 1, which was €90. That person can apply to the Revenue Commissioners and have those years from 2013 up until now reimbursed, which is nine years in total of payments, including 2021. We have facilitated people who have made the wrong valuation in the past.
People with mica would have valued their homes in good faith. Many of those homes were valueless, however. After the passage of this legislation, can they still avail of that facility? A homeowner in Buncrana, Carndonagh or Letterkenny may possibly have valued their house according to a €315 tax band. Because they now know it was affected by mica at that point in 2013, however, they should have valued it much lower. Can they now look for that recoupment?
These amendments are crucially important. Does the Minister think that anybody would profess to have pyrite or mica were they not almost certain they had it in their homes? People do not make up these stories. They do not want to have pyrite or mica. We have asked for years for them to be exempt from property tax because the properties - I will speak for those in County Mayo - were worth zero. How, therefore, can one have a property tax based on value for those homes? Time and time again we have been refused. The Revenue Commissioners are doing their jobs properly but they did not have permission to give the exemption under that.
It was totally wrong that these people were watching their houses falling down, and at the same time they had to pay the property tax on them. Those people at a very minimum need to be reimbursed but we cannot ask them to pay €6,000 upfront. Many of the people trying to get the test done at the moment are scrambling to get the money from credit unions or they are borrowing from family members and others just so they can apply for the scheme.
It is vitally important that we do not leave here tonight without having this fixed. I do not like what I am hearing coming from people in Mayo at the meetings on the pyrite situation with the Minister. Even the smallest of issues are not being resolved at this stage and we are in the middle of July. The report is due back at the end of the month. This is one issue on which the Minister can provide clarity. I refer to a self-assessment exemption to be applied retrospectively so that people get reimbursed for the tax.
While I am speaking to the Minister, Mayo County Council does not have any money to rehouse the people who have watched their homes crumbling-----
I support the amendments. The situation is very unfair. I cannot understand how it costs €6,000 for the assessment. Families are being devastated and must try to house themselves when their homes are destroyed. It is obvious to anyone involved with a degree of knowledge of building that there are serious defects. The Government should set up a scheme whereby a group of assessors is set up and funded. People are being exploited if they are being charged €6,000. The work is technical enough, but it cannot be that technical. Surely to God, €1,000 would be a lot of money not to mind €6,000. Applicants are forced to come up with the money and then they are charged a property tax on a house that is rendered useless. It is dangerous for people to live in such houses. There are houses in Tipperary that are affected. The problem is bigger than people realise. Issues arise with public buildings and bridges because of the bad mixture that was used. I support the amendments. The Government should consider some kind of group scheme of assessors who would be independent and fair.
I find it extraordinary and very worrying that the Minister has put in these conditions. When it was confirmed with the campaigning families in Donegal that at long last, after years and years, they were going to be exempt from the property tax, they said it was a positive gesture, but there are more substantive issues. I note the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, is present. I refer to the 100% redress and all of the other imbalances between the scheme that was rightly made available to the campaigning families in Dublin and Leinster after a long campaign but was not extended to Donegal and Mayo.
Let us talk about the defective concrete blocks grant scheme. Under the scheme, one has to source an engineer who takes a core extraction from the house. The sample is sent away to be tested in a laboratory and after it has been analysed, an engineering recommendation is made to Donegal County Council in the case of houses in Donegal. The cost ranges from €5,000 to €7,000. Those costs were rightly taken care of in the pyrite remediation scheme by the Pyrite Resolution Board. People face a charge of between €5,000 and €7,000.
The local property tax is a self-assessment tax. An individual is responsible for assessing the value of his or her home. Surely to God these amendments are entirely reasonable. People would declare that they believe their home to be affected by mica in Donegal or pyrite in Mayo. That means their home cannot be insured. That is not something people want to do, and it is not something anyone would happily or readily do. It is a big declaration to make. We are saying that if a person self-declares that his or her home is impacted by this, he or she should not be liable for the property tax. That is only fair that it would be the case.
People are really hurting in Donegal and Mayo. People are also hurting in counties Clare and Sligo, who are not yet able to benefit from the scheme. They have been failed by the State in its oversight responsibilities and in more recent years in market surveillance. The concrete block is the core component of the family home in the vast majority of houses in this State. I cannot think of a more important item that a person or a builder could purchase than concrete blocks to build a home. Is there a more important purchase? Could there have been a more important product that the State was ensuring was built to the best possible standard? We abandoned people to self-regulation, light-touch regulation and no regulation. The State abandoned people and failed them. After years of campaigning, it put in place a scheme for families in Dublin. The scheme is not perfect, but it is a scheme they were entitled to. After years in Donegal and following an independent expert panel report we ended up with the present scheme. I know the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has probably advised the Minister for Finance that the working group is going to advance these issues. That is welcome if it happens, but what we need is a 100% fully funded scheme. We need rents to be covered while people are out of their home. We need the upfront costs to be covered. If the advice is to remove the outer leaf of a house and that goes wrong, people must have a State guarantee on it. Fundamentally, we need a fully-funded scheme. I am pleased both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage are present. The Minister must accept the amendment tabled by Deputy Doherty and me. It is the least he can do. It would be a positive gesture that we trust people to visually self-assess that their home is impacted and that they will be exempt from the property tax. That would be a positive signal if the Minister could do that.
I appeal to both Ministers present, and also to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath. This is perfect. The three Ministers, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage are present. I am sure every other Member of this House will join me in this. We appeal to them to put in place a fully funded scheme to make up for the years of State failure, to get these families moving forward. I appeal that we would do that together in a positive way. The deadline is 31 July. If we get to that with really good news, I hope we can come back in September. It starts tonight. It is a positive signal if the Minister accepts the amendment. It is a common-sense amendment and I trust the Minister will do it. He will do what is right up until 31 July and then the State will make some recompense to all of those families that were failed over the years.
I support the Sinn Féin Deputies tonight. This is a very important subject and a very important amendment. It deserves to be supported because it is not many weeks ago that we met the good people who came here to protest. There were grandparents, parents and young children who were living in homes that were crumbling around them. After every weather event, be it frost or rain, their houses changed overnight and more cracks and more disintegration occurred. There could be nothing more upsetting, worrying or financially detrimental than the house around one falling down.
I met couples who owned a property each, perhaps before they met and married.
The husband and wife would each have had a property that was falling down. Of course, they were only entitled to one allocation of compensation. That was an awful worry for those people. They deserved 100% compensation for the position in which they found themselves, and it is only right and proper that every Member here should support the Deputies who have spoken correctly and strongly on behalf of their constituents.
We did not want to have to meet such people, and they should not have had to come to Dublin to protest in the first place. They had to do it because they had to stand up for themselves. It was so sad and upsetting to meet those people and hear their life stories and what they have gone through, along with the hardship they suffer. I wanted to put my shoulder to the wheel for them tonight.
I will be brief but I encourage Ministers, whether wise or not, to accept our amendments. They have already accepted the principle of self-assessment and it should be applicable to all homeowners. Believe me, if people are living in a house with defects, they will know it. They may not be sufficient to qualify for a scheme but they will know if a house is affected by pyrite. It is likely that the neighbours' houses will be affected too. These people know that, in effect, the presence of pyrite renders a house worthless. In circumstances where self-assessment is allowed, it should be extended to take in everybody. The Government has already accepted, in part, the principle of self-assessment, and these amendments just seek to ensure that principle applies to everybody. I cannot see an argument against it and I encourage the Minister to accept the amendments from An Teachta Doherty and An Teachta Mac Lochlainn.
I will briefly speak in favour of the amendment. I thank Sinn Féin for tabling it. Clare does not have a mica problem but it has a pyrite problem. Nobody wants pyrite in their home. Nobody would want to claim that a home is worthless unless it is. This does not detract in any way from what the Minister is seeking to achieve. The amendment is very constructive in nature. It will provide a little help to the families in Clare that unexpectedly have homes that are not worth anything like what they spent on them. They face years of heartache trying to resolve this matter without having to spend money on engineers to show them what they already know in order to avail of the local property tax exemption. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the amendment.
I support the Sinn Féin amendment. I am a qualified blocklayer by trade and I have helped to build many houses. As previous speakers stated, the block is the main part of a house, along with a foundation and the roof. There are many people in County Limerick who have issues arising from pyrite. I have seen a couple of houses that have it and I will be calling to more next week. These are mainly from the 1980s and 1990s. People did not realise what was wrong with the houses but reporting of the problem has escalated over the past number of years. I have videos on my phone showing cracks in houses that are scary. That is why I support the amendment.
Years ago when houses were built, the blocks were tipped from a lorry. That was instead of getting them off by crane as they do today. Sometimes, if blocks could not be procured in time for the building schedule, people would get them from a different quarry. There are quarries where the owners knew they had a problem so it is now time for them to own up to it and work to rectify the problem. We are talking about homes belonging to people and families. They should be there for the next generation and we must fix them.
There are people with pyrite on one side of their house but not on the other because they used two different suppliers when building. It is very important that all these people are looked after. At minimum, the local property tax should be waived but these people should get their houses and family homes back. They should be able to future-proof it for the next generation.
I thank the Deputies for raising a matter that the Government knows is very sensitive because of the anxiety about harm and damage that has been caused not just to homes but to the families who live in them and who have experienced such difficulty over a number of years. It is in recognition of this that the Government put in place a scheme to try to provide support to families affected by the problem. When the scheme launched, some of the Deputies who spoke this evening welcomed it. I also understand that there are very clear issues that the Government recognises it must respond to. These relate to how we can further support all those people who have been affected by the terrible damage being done to their homes.
On the question that has been raised this evening, as I understand it, this exemption has been structured in a way that is consistent with the existing exemption in place for homes affected by pyrite. The principle of basing the exemption on the regulation issuing from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is a structure very similar to that in place for homes that have been affected by pyrite.
Opposition Deputies know that this and many other matters are being considered by a working group put in place by the Government. The constituents affected by this problem are present on the group and working with it. There is a process under way to try to bring this to a conclusion. I ask the Deputies to respect that process and allow it to conclude. In the spirit in which the matter was raised, I ask them to consider withdrawing the amendment and allowing the process to conclude. I understand the deadline is 31 July and a third meeting of the group has happened. This will be one of the matters considered.
As the Government considers the future in the context of this issue, we must be conscious of the homes affected by pyrite as well. I am informed that to date exemptions to the value of €166 million have been granted for homes affected by pyrite. It is an exemption in place for other homeowners and the proposal within the finance Bill is structured on that exemption. In the spirit of there being a process in place that considers these matters, and also in the spirit motivating Deputies Doherty and Mac Lochlainn in tabling the amendment, I ask that they withdraw it in order to allow the process to conclude. The Opposition may then form a view on the matter. We are aware of the huge harm that so many people have suffered and we are doing our best on that. We will work together to see how a comprehensive response to this can be further strengthened.
I do not want this process to be equated with questions of trust. We understand the challenges being faced by homeowners. I do not want it to be inferred in any way that by not accepting this amendment, we have in any way issues with trust with regard to the very serious matters being raised.
There are reasons that I have advanced for why this exemption is structured as it is. It is based on how we have dealt with similar issues elsewhere. As I said, there is a process under way to try to consider this that is due to conclude shortly. I would not like it to be inferred that the motivation behind this is in any way about questions of trust. We understand how serious this is and we are doing our best to respond to it.
At this point I have to interrupt the Minister because the time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 13 July: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and the Bill is hereby passed." Is that matter agreed?
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Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Carol Nolan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Violet Wynne.