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Cllr Dermot Lacey

Representing Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council
Dermot Lacey is a Labour Party Councillor for the Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council. Dermot has been a member of Dublin City Council since 1993, and lives in Beech Hill, Donnybrook.
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 / Cllr Dermot Lacey ƒ Representing Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council

Blocking Property Tax is not the Solution

It is extraordinary, indeed somewhat surreal, that once again we are having a debate on the introduction of a Property Tax/Council Charge in the absence of virtually any contribution from those who actually work within the local government sector and who try to make a dysfunctional system work at all.

Instead we have had myriad opinion pieces from academics, ill informed commentators, vested interests and frequently the oppositionists from the Far Left and the Nationalist Left who have opposed every single suggestion as to how we should finance our system fairly and with democratic accountability.

Too often the voice of the Constructive left has been sidelined and the platform left to the opportunists. Across the world Socialists and Social Democrats advocate payment into a collective fund, toward the provision of collective services.

Opposing the “Trendy Left”

All across the world, that is, except for the Trendy Left and Nationalist Left in Ireland. Here they simply oppose, protest, march, campaign and instil fear and selfish individualism. I oppose their agenda just as much as I oppose those who broke this country and brought Ireland to its knees.

No Public representative particularly wants to advocate more tax. However, surely this country has had enough of those who promise without cost and who offer Public Services without any reference to payment or appropriate taxation.

The truth is that since the populist and cowardly abolition of Domestic Rates Local Government has been starved of funding. The promise to reimburse Councils for the Rates foregone was never honoured by Government. I have calculated that since that decision approximately E4billion has been withheld from Dublin City Council alone by Government. That cannot be sustained.

More accountable model

It is clear that the Property Tax has many flaws I hope that in the period between now and the announcement of Budget 2014 we can use the period to tackle those problems and develop a fairer and more accountable model.

However instead of even attempting to develop an alternative or seek to amend the legislation the pretend Far Left in Ireland just say No. So much for Social Solidarity, so much for honesty and so much for the redistribution of wealth that they claim to stand for.

We need an honest debate on Local Government Reform and on Local Government Financing.

Forum on Financing

I have proposed before that a Forum on the Financing of Local Government be established. It would be comprised of the main Political Parties, the Social Partners and the Councillor Representative Bodies. The Forum would be charged, with agreeing a consensus approach on the issue. There would be an opportunity to contribute for the wider public and it would be given twelve months to report.

The Forum could consider either a national and common approach to the funding issue or, as I would prefer, a range of options that could be determined, as appropriate by local elected Councils.

These could include everything from property taxes, a tourist or hotel bed levy, planning enforcement charges, a variable income or sales tax and so on. Real responsibility will then rest with local Councillors who will also have real flexibility in how to spend the money.

Unlike the ULA/PBP/SP/SF/JPF campaigners, the Dublin City Council Finance Committee –against the wishes of the Sinn Fein Chairperson – has tried to make a constructive contribution to this debate by adopting a detailed submission on the Property tax.

I was pleased that the Committee, representative of a broad range of Councillors and civic society, endorsed the thrust of the proposals I submitted.

Proposals for Reform

Proposals for reform are still possible in any genuine refinement of the Property Tax legislation. Fine Gael TD’s who are vocal on the Plinth might now engage actively in the Parliamentary Party rooms to deliver on some of these:

1) Property Tax raised locally should be retained by the relevant Local Authority in which the money is raised.

2) That price variation in areas be recognized as a reality with appropriate banding. The charge would also reflect the size and value of the property.

3) That an ability to pay clause be an essential element.

4) Rcognizing the need for Equalisation Measures, but also the often higher costs associated with higher population areas that a maximum of 15% be taken from the sum collected as a contribution to an Equalisation Fund. Central Government should contribute any sums necessary to ensure adequate finance for the overall scheme

5) .That Local Councils be allowed to vary the nationally set rate by a maximum of 5%.

6) Provision be made for costs incurred in protecting and upgrading Heritage and Cultural properties that are open to the public.

7) That a penalty would be applied for any deliberate dereliction of property in an attempt to avoid payment. In short that there be no reward for dereliction of property.

8) That real acknowledgement of the enormous sums expended in Stamp Duty during the years 2008 to 1998 be dealt with through a sliding scale of abatement.

9) That given the normal high costs incurred with the purchase of a first house that an abatement sliding from 70% to 20% be applied for the first five years of such purchase in future.

Financing is central to any real reform of Local Government and, in my opinion, reform of Local Government must be central to how we reform Ireland. Honesty rather than sloganeering and playing to the gallery must be central to both.

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