A CORK councillor has slammed a loophole in legislation that sees TDs' constituency offices exempt from paying commercial rates.
The exception, brought in under the national valuation regulations years ago, came to light last weekend as media reports highlighted that charity shops in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's native Castlebar are subject to paying rates to the local council - but that Mr Kenny's office is exempt.
Independent county councillor John Paul O'Shea described the reports as "hard to take", given his previous attempts to allow rates exemptions for charities and start-up businesses.
"I think it is completely inappropriate to have a TD's office on the main street exempt from rates while someone next door has to pay the full rate. It's discrimination," Cllr O'Shea said.
"We have charities like Saint Vincent de Paul with a shop in Mallow town, who have to pay council rates. These charities do good work selling wares to raise funds and still have to pay rates in Mallow, Castlebar, wherever they are."
Cllr O'Shea believes the main problem is that local councils do not have the discretion to adapt the commercial rates to meet the unique needs of different areas.
"The valuation rate is decided at the valuation office. If half the shops on a street are idle we can't offer a special rate for the first year or two to encourage businesses to move there.
"Look at Bridge Street in Mallow, which suffered from flooding. It is only now getting back on its feet. We can't offer a special rate to encourage new businesses. We don't have flexibility, and I've been looking for it now for three years.
"We've been told there is a review nationally in 2015, but that's no good. We need it now to help businesses.
Cllr O'Shea said that he is not looking for 'freebies' but the flexibility to allow non commercial groups apply for lower commercial and water rates in recognition of the work they do.
"That TDs' offices are exempt is laughable," he said.
"The reality is that this is ruled from the national government down. We are told that more powers are to come to local government and I hope this is the case. We need to be able to set different commercial rates in different locations in towns and across the county," Cllr O'Shea argued.