Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Local Government Rates and Other Matters Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages
Senator Ruane emailed me to inform me of her amendment. I must confess that I put forward a similar proposal when I was a finance spokesperson in this House in a previous life. Senator Norris said he did likewise. All those who spoke on the amendment are in favour of it. I support what it is trying to achieve, but I wish to get into some of the detail referred to by Senator O'Donnell.
The intention of the amendment may be to allow for the exemption of charity shops from rates. However, the Valuation Acts already provide that certain categories of property are not rateable. These details are set out in Schedule 4, which is currently the subject of a review which will conclude in the near future. The exemptions include a property occupied by a charity and used exclusively for charitable purposes and otherwise than for profit. As Senator O'Donnell outlined, it is probably that many organisations do not avail of the exemption, possibly because they are not fully aware of it or, as Senator Murnane O'Connor stated, because charitable status is no longer as straightforward as was previously the case.
The difficulty is that the exemption does not cover retail activity. Senator Lawlor yesterday referenced a town in his constituency in which there are several charity shops, some of which are in direct competition with small draper-type shops. I do not hold a candle for the big multiples, whether in a shopping centre or on a main street, but I do for the few surviving small drapery shops and similar that exist in towns throughout the country. In effect, some of the bigger national charitable shops are in competition with those drapers.
There has been no change in policy in this area in recent years. I think Deputy Harris was the Minister of State who oversaw the passage of the most recent valuation legislation in 2015. I am mindful that many Senators expressed concerns on this matter. The aims of Senator Ruane in the amendment can be achieved under the alleviation scheme in section 15. To use her example, if the kind of wellness centre referred to by the Senator which is not just a gym but deals with other issues, possibly mental health issues, were stitched into South Dublin County Council's development plan or the local area plan for Tallaght, it would be covered by the alleviation scheme. I do not wish to enshrine in national legislation a measure from which some of the big charity shops that are in competition with local small businesses will benefit. That is not the Senator's intention either. Local authority members on the ground in Tallaght, Kilkenny and elsewhere know the type of organisations in their area, including the shop she mentioned which is run in partnership with the YMCA as well as wellness centres, and are able to design their development plan or local area plan to provide for such facilities without giving a blanket free-for-all to the charity shop sector. Section 15 will allow the local authorities to achieve what the Senator is seeking to do through the amendment.