Friday, 16 July 2021
Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages
Alice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
In regard to the fact of there being variations in amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, that is the nature of the situation when we have legislation going through all Stages. The presenting of options has to happen side-by-side on Committee Stage rather than Members being allowed to have a discussion and a different version on Report Stage. However, amendment No. 6 is completely legitimate and, while it is obviously not going to pass today, I urge the Minister to discuss it with the Data Protection Commissioner. I believe it has a clear purpose and we collect things for particular clear purposes. Once it is clear what that purpose is, that purpose does not have to be current and it can be future, but it must be a clear purpose. The amendment sets out a clear purpose in respect of the levy or tax on vacant residential properties, or a certain category of vacant residential properties. That is quite a clear purpose and would be a legitimate and appropriate use because there is that concern with regard to gathering the information and how the information is used. It seems a whole process of self-evaluation is about to be undergone in the autumn, a review is scheduled for three years' time and it seems there would then be an entirely separate process of self-evaluation related to the vacant property tax. I worry that the requirement for such a measure could delay what may turn out to be a very important measure.
In regard to those different categories and exemptions, I do not think it is going to be as big or as complicated as the Minister thinks. There will be some exemptions, and I hope we will get a chance to talk on one of the key areas in the next few minutes.I am not sure if this information will be compiled as part of that statistical information, but it is different if somebody has a vacant property and if somebody else has 50 vacant properties. Gathering the information and simply attaching it to each property is different and it is probably not what we need in terms of identifying the patterns. For the same reason, we also need to look to where there are multiple properties owned by somebody, which may be legitimate in the case of one, but the same argument cannot stand in 50 different instances. Does the Minister know what I mean? The concern is not just about an individual vacant property, it is about groups or suites of vacant properties. In compiling the statistical information and preparing this issue, which will need to move forward in the autumn, the Minister will get more support across the House than he might conceive. There will be exemptions, but I do not think they will delay us very much. The question of multiple vacant properties must be specifically addressed.