Noonan under pressure to give tax breaks for market towns
Finance Minister Michael Noonan is coming under intense pressure from a group of Fine Gael backbenchers to introduce tax incentives to help boost some of the country's most recession-hit towns.
Fine Gael TDs are growing deeply frustrated at the Government's efforts to ensure the economic recovery spreads beyond the main urban areas.
The issue dominated the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting this week during which Mr Noonan was urged to introduce specific tax incentives in October's Budget.
Deputies told Mr Noonan directly that little is being done to address the problem of derelict shops and that the issue is being raised constantly by voters on the doorsteps.
A motion, tabled by Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin, called on Mr Noonan to bring in tax breaks for businesses, first-time buyers and owner-occupiers who revive dormant properties in market towns.
The proposal, which is similar to the Living City initiative, would see tax relief offered to those who refurbish vacant buildings for either business or living purposes.
But sources at the meeting said there was surprise at the response given by Mr Noonan, who was said to be "lukewarm" over the idea.
A significant number of backbenchers spoke in favour of the motion, including Kerry TD Brendan Griffin; Cavan/Monaghan TD Sean Conlan; Dun Laoghaire TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor; Laois/Offaly TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy; Longford/Westmeath TD Gabrielle McFadden; Carlow/Kilkenny TD Pat Deering; and Senator Cáit Keane.
Ms Mulherin told the meeting that there was now a significant need to reinvigorate small towns and said such an incentive should be worked on as part of the upcoming Budget.
Ms Mitchell O'Connor backed the proposal, adding that any such incentives should be targeted at those willing to make use of the space above shops.
She said the issue was not just confined to rural Ireland and that traders mentioned it regularly to her in towns like Dun Laoghaire.
Mr Conlan said at the meeting that many towns in his constituency are blighted by derelict buildings and that it is important incentives are introduced.
Sources present at the meeting said they were surprised at Mr Noonan's response to Ms Mulherin's proposal, adding that they do not feel he gave it enough credit.
He told the meeting that incentives are already in place for such works, such as the home improvement grant.
It was also suggested to Ms Mulherin that the matter was one to be considered by Environment Minister Alan Kelly but she disagreed.
During the meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the issue should instead be examined by an internal working group who would consider the matter for inclusion in the party's General Election manifesto.
Ms Mulherin, who shares a constituency with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, could not be reached for comment last night.