Volunteer rescuers must pay the state for helping out at tragedies
THE chairman of Mallow Search and Rescue unit has lashed out at the government, saying it was "shocking" that voluntary groups are forced to pay 23% VAT on life saving equipment.
Almost one quarter of money raised by the unit each year has to be handed back to the government in VAT - despite the fact that the unit does not receive a single penny in government funding.
Speaking to The Corkman, John Woulfe said this is putting huge pressure on units such as his across the country who rely on the generosity of the public for their funding.
He said the current situation is costing the unit up to €10,000 per year - money that should be spent on vital new equipment.
"We pay VAT on every piece of equipment that we buy. The Brian O'Tuama Fund even had to shell out more than €7,000 in VAT on the side-scanning sonar unit that it donated to us. I find it shocking that, despite the essential work we do for the state, the government cannot see its way to giving us some support by exempting us from VAT," said Mr Woulfe.
"We raise between €40,000 to €45,000 each year through fundraising, up to €10,000 of which goes straight back into the government's coffers. To me, that is completely unacceptable," he added.
Mr Woulfe pointed out that under the Community Rescue Boats Ireland (CRBI) initiative coastal based voluntary units are exempt from paying VAT on purchases.
He said that under current regulations, search and rescue units must render assistance at sea in order to qualify for such an exemption.
"We do so on a regular basis - in fact, more than 60% of the calls we receive each year are for incidents that happen off the Irish coast. We have been called to incidents all over the country and yet still have to pay VAT on the fuel that we use to get there," said Mr Woulfe.
"We have applied to the Irish Water Safety Association (IWSA) for CRBI status but have been met with a brick wall. We are not some kind of fly by night operation. All we are seeking is a level playing field that would free up money that could be spent on essential life-saving equipment," he added.
Mallow TD Tom Barry (FG) said he was aware of the situation and had approached both had Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Michael Noonan seeking a resolution.
"I am working to secure an exemption from VAT and some form of permanent funding for Mallow Search and Rescue," said Deputy Barry.
"There is great goodwill at government level towards the Mallow unit and I would be very hopeful of a positive outcome," he added.