McEntee calls for more property tax exemptions
THE Fine Gael candidate in tomorrow's Meath East by-election has ramped up the pressure on Environment Minister Phil Hogan by saying too few ghost estates have been excluded from the property tax.
But Mr Hogan is digging in, and is rebuffing calls to waive the tax for more unfinished estates.
Helen McEntee, who is in a fight with Fianna Fail's Thomas Byrne to take her late father's Dail seat, said she would push for more exemptions.
The move follows tensions between Labour and Mr Hogan, with the junior coalition partner's chief whip saying a "dog's dinner" had been made of the property tax exemptions.
Kildare North TD Emmet Stagg also said Mr Hogan "was missing" from the Dail last week when Labour ministers had to explain why the numbers of ghost estate exemptions was substantially down on those for the controversial €100 household charge. While 43,000 households were exempted from the household charge, only 5,100 households will avoid the local property tax.
Ms McEntee said she and her father fought for exemptions for people in homes affected by pyrite, and would do so with ghost estates.
"There are a number of these housing estates that should have been on the list," she said.
"I have seen the list and I wouldn't be happy with some of the estates – some of them have improved definitely, some of them have not.
"I fought for two-and-a-half years with my dad to get people affected by pyrite on this list and I would fight the same manner for these people as well."
Mr Stagg said he had written to Mr Hogan and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, asking for a reversal in the huge number of exemptions. But Fianna Fail's Niall Collins said the Lab-our stance was "classic Lab-our hand-wringing" and a "sudden att-ack of conscience as polling day in the Meath East by-election app-roaches".
However, Mr Hogan's spokes-man said there is "no suggestion we are going back on it".
The spokesman also pointed out that Thursdays – when Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte had to defend the exemptions in the Dail – are always set aside for a Labour minister to take Leaders' Questions.
He said Mr Hogan had to be in Brussels that day to chair a meeting of European environment ministers as part of Ireland's presidency of the EU.
"The Government and the minister in particular made a dog's dinner of this," Mr Stagg told KFM radio in Kildare.
"He was missing from the Dail and left Pat Rabbitte to deal with it last Thursday morning. I presume he's back now from Brussels. I want the minister to change his decision."
Mr Rabbitte was bemused by the fuss, since he also said Thursdays were usually set aside for Labour ministers.
"I don't know where this is coming from. Thursdays are never taken by the Taoiseach or a Fine Gael minister," he said.
He also launched an attack on Fianna Fail, saying: "The people of Meath East are entitled to cast their vote as they see fit, but to be seen to reward Fianna Fail for the misery and hardship they have brought on people is incomprehensible."
The parties make their final election pitches today, and the broadcast moratorium kicks in at lunchtime.