Charity forced to pay rates but Enda escapes scot-free
Charity shops in Castlebar, Co Mayo, face a demand for thousands of euro for commercial rates while the Taoiseach's large constituency office in the town is totally exempt from the local authority charge.
TDs who have constituency offices all over the country don't have to pay rates – a perk introduced some years ago as part of national valuation regulations. But charity shops like those run by Oxfam and the St Vincent de Paul have to pay rates on the same basis as other retail and commercial enterprises.
Though administrative offices of registered charities are exempt, any shops they run are liable for the charge.
Oxfam in Castlebar faces a rates demand of €4,540 according to local independent councillor Frank Durkan, part of an overall rates demand for Castlebar of nearly €4m for 2013.
"It is outrageous that the Taoiseach's lavish constituency HQ is a freebie for Enda Kenny as far as rates are concerned while Oxfam and other charity shops are being crucified," he said.
"Enda is getting a big subvention from the country to run that office just like every other TD around the place. He should pay rates and charity shops should be exempt. I cannot believe it is even up for discussion. It is a ludicrous state of affairs," he said.
Age Action Ireland, Aware, Barnardos and the Irish Cancer Society are among the respected charities who run shops and who are hit with hefty annual rates bills from local authorities around the country.
Sorcha Nic Mhathuna of Oxfam said that as a member of the Irish Charity Shops Association, the charity has been lobbying for a long time to have charity shops exempt from commercial rates.
"This would allow us to spend that money instead on our vital work in humanitarian response, long-term development programmes and campaigning and advocacy, giving a voice to people affected by poverty and injustice around the world. We would like to see positive movement on this issue," she said.
Paul Hughes of the Irish Charity Shops Association (ICSA) said that lobbying on the issue by the group had been met with stony silence by the Department of Finance.
"When you consider the valuable work done by charity shops in helping the marginalised in society on behalf of the State, the demand for commercial rates is ludicrous.
"The charity shops not only supply local people with cost-effective items like shoes and clothing as well as books and furniture, they also play a major role in the drive towards recycle and re-use.
He said the total rates bill for the 320 charity shops from 23 charities affiliated with the ICSA runs into hundreds of thousands of euro each year.
"Rates are serious issues for all charities who run shops," he said.
In Clare, local TDs have been urged to donate up to €5,000 in cash to Ennis Town Council from their own pockets to compensate for not paying commercial rates.
Councillor Brian Meaney called on those with constituency offices in Ennis to pay a voluntary contribution to the council and "show solidarity with the hard-pressed business community".
"This could be an opportunity to show leadership and a bit of an example. They already get well-compensated in expenses and with the services that local government are required to deliver, we do need to ensure maximum payment of rates."
Town manager Ger Dollard confirmed to councillors that constituency offices are entitled to an exemption from commercial rates but pointed out they were liable for water charges.
The council agreed to write to government representatives asking for a contribution.