Saturday 21 October 2017

Ministers 'out of loop' when house levy driven through

Brendan Howlin,TD, the Minister for Public expenditure. Photo: Tom Burke
Brendan Howlin,TD, the Minister for Public expenditure. Photo: Tom Burke
Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

THE property tax was driven through by the controversial "mini-Cabinet" while other ministers were kept out of the loop.

Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the key decisions were made by the Government's four-man "mini-Cabinet" -- known as the Economic Management Council.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin were given a "walk-through" of the property tax system at least six weeks before the rest of the Cabinet were told.

The briefing was given by Revenue chairwoman Josephine Feehily sometime between September and mid-October 2012.

It had been flagged back in early August, with one email saying that Revenue officials were preparing the property tax briefing material for Ms Feehily "for EMC" rather than the Cabinet.

The Cabinet only got the full details when the property tax memo was brought to them on November 28, 2012.

COMPLAINTS

And in a further sign of where the power in Government lies, the same property tax memo had been given to the Economic Management Council (EMC) the night before for discussion and approval.

A Department of Finance official wrote: "(Property tax) memo was cleared as attached at EMC last night and is on agenda for Government meeting this morning. Bill and explanatory memo will also be circulated."

Government ministers such as Joan Burton, Simon Coveney and Phil Hogan did have officials representing their departments on the working groups that devised the property tax arrangements. But the full picture was given to the EMC first rather than the Cabinet.

There have been private complaints from cabinet ministers that the EMC is now the dominant forum in the Government -- and that they are only getting to sign off at Cabinet on decisions already made.

A recent example is when ministers were only told that Ireland was making a clean exit from the bailout without a credit line the day after the decision was actually made.

The EMC regularly meets before the full cabinet meeting so that agreement can be thrashed out between the two Fine Gael representatives -- Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan -- and the two Labour representatives -- Mr Gilmore and Mr Howlin.

Irish Independent

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