COUNTY councillors from across the political spectrum agreed in principle this Monday that any new property tax must take ability to pay into account.
But Fine Gael leader in the council chamber, Cllr John Sheahan was hopeful that party colleague and Finance Minister Michael Noonan had already inserted an inability to pay clause. And he accused Cllr Kevin Sheahan of “playing with emotions” in painting an “Armageddon situation if a property tax is introduced”.
Earlier, Fianna Fail’s Cllr Kevin Sheahan proposed a motion opposing the introduction of a value-based property tax. “A value-based property tax that is not based on the ability to pay principle would be uncollectable,” he went on. And it would be unfair.
“I wonder what penalty will be placed on those unable to pay,” he demanded. In the past, when people were unable to pay domestic rates, they “had to vacate their homes on foot of court orders and had to emigrate”, he said.
Citing a number of handsome, stone-built houses in Kilcornan and Mungret, Cllr Kevin Sheahan said the owners had had to strip the roofs off sixty and seventy years ago becasue they were unable to pay rates. “They had to do it to remain in ownership of the land around it,” he said.
And he warned: “This is going to happen again as a result of a property tax that does not recognise inability to pay. What will the consequences be?. Will they have to strip the roofs or emigrate?”
“No-one can accuse me of politics,” he went on. Fianna Fail was opposed to a property tax, he said, but he was a realist and he acknowledged it would be introduced. However, he said, a value-based property tax in the current unstable property would be unworkable and would disproportionately penalise some home owners. And he called on the Government to abandon its plans to introduce such a value-based property tax.
“I would certainly hope we would not go back to the draconian situation of stripping roofs off or be forced to jail people,” Fine Gael’s Cllr John Sheahan responded. And he told his Fianna Fail counterpart he was being premature. Finance Minister may already have inserted an inability to pay clause. “I have no problem in telling the Minister about the fears people have about a property tax,” he went on. However, he said, he had no difficulty with the spirit of the motion in alerting the Minister about concerns about inability to pay.
“Who values the property,” asked Cllr John Egan. “Is it going to be auctioneers or someone from the rates office?”
“It is not that tax alone,” said Cllr Noel Gleeson.(FF) “It is all the bits and pieces added on and people aren’t able to pay any more.”
Cllr Stephen Keary (FG) said those in local authority houses should be asked to pay.
“I am quite satisfied by the reaction,” Cllr Kevin Sheahan said as the debate wound up. The important thing was that Minister Noonan would be alerted to their concerns and he was pleading with the Minister to take account of inability to pay.