Friday 30 September 2016

Ross must act - before 'doddle' turns disaster

Published 07/09/2016 | 02:30

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

The Greeks believed that every citizen should be obliged to watch a play. The reasoning was that it demanded attention, degrees of judgment, patience and all the social virtues. But Irish commuters have been forced to watch something of a farce unfold over the past week, one that was singularly lacking in social virtues.

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Transport Minister Shane Ross landed himself in it with a glib remark about his Transport portfolio being a relative "doddle" compared to his travails in handling the sporting side of his brief. Mr Ross will have plenty of time to rue the throwaway remark when, from 9pm tonight until Saturday, the capital will be without buses.

A new wave of transport chaos is to be visited on the city as trade unions dig in for a 21pc hike. The Labour Court had suggested an increase of 8pc. In the meantime, the public will be caught up in a battle of wills.

The strikes will massively disrupt the travel plans of 400,000 passengers a day, while the financial cost to the company is €600,000 a day. It would be facile to hold Mr Ross solely to blame for all of this: the primary responsibility lies with Dublin Bus and the unions; and there are industrial relations mechanisms that could play their part. All the same, the pressure on Mr Ross will grow as traffic grinds to a halt and people are late for work. Dublin Bus may face fines from the National Transport Authority for failing to deliver service on the strike days.

The readiness to strike is regrettable. Drivers depend on the public, and massively inconveniencing the very people who keep them employed is an unjust way of making their point. Every day the buses are off the streets hurts their case and undermines the viability of the company.

To date, Mr Ross has not intervened. But if he delays too long, today's "doddle" could be tomorrow's disaster.

Fairness must lie at the heart of our tax system

Recent days have brought our tax laws under the harshest of scrutiny. Yesterday's announcement of plans by Finance Minister Michael Noonan to close a loophole that allows vulture funds slash their tax bills came with something of the sound of a stable door being slammed after the stallion had bolted.

Most will know little of Section 110 of the Taxes Consolidation Act. Yet, it amounted to a device which facilitated the vulture funds to avoid tax on property transactions. Considering they had bought the properties at massive write-downs, making huge killings, coupled with the fact they were further able to minimise their tax, heaps compound interest on top of the sense of insult and sense of injury felt by the general public.

Massive write-downs are not something the workers of the country can avail of although they are all too familiar with taxes.

The devices used by vulture funds to acquire distressed properties here are called Special Purpose Vehicles and to date they have snapped up assets worth around €300bn. Earlier this year, the Government was accused of facilitating wholesale tax avoidance after it emerged that one vulture capital firm was liable to be taxed on only €1,000 of its €4.5m profit. Clearly these rates were agreed when our economy had seized up and we were desperate for investment. Such arrangements can no longer stand if there is to be any degree of fairness. Later this week European Union countries will meet in Bratislava to see how members can coordinate tax rules. Clarity, certainty and above all equity, must be at the heart of the agenda.

Irish Independent

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