Phil Hogan refuses to pay €4k service charges on his Portugal holiday penthouse
'Would you pay a charge if you were unhappy with service?' asks Minister
ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan, who is in the eye of a storm over the household charge, is refusing to pay service charges on his penthouse apartment in Portugal, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Mr Hogan, who has an apartment in Villamoura on the Algarve, has an outstanding service charge of €4,320, according to a 'debtors' list document dated March 27.
Yesterday, the minister confirmed that fees "of that order" were outstanding but said that he was in dispute with the apartment complex's management company.
"Would you pay a charge if you were unhappy with the service?" he asked.
Mr Hogan added that he was "annoyed" that details of the outstanding service charges had been obtained by this newspaper.
"I am entitled to a certain amount of privacy," he said, adding: "This has nothing to do with public services."
While disputes between Irish residents and management companies at holiday home complexes abroad are increasingly common, the disclosure that Mr Hogan is refusing to pay service charges will nevertheless be acutely embarrassing for the Environment Minister.
Back home, he has been broadly criticised for his handling of the controversial €100 household charge issue, for which the payment deadline passed at midnight.
An estimated one million people have yet to register to pay the charge despite a mixture of pleas, threats and cajoling by the minister and his cabinet colleagues.
Yesterday, several thousand protesters marched on the Fine Gael Ard Fheis at the National Convention Centre in Dublin to voice their opposition to the charge.
Mr Hogan told his party's delegates: "Despite the financial pressures, despite the newness of the concept and despite the time pressure that we have had to work within, the Irish people have stepped up and registered in their hundreds of thousands.
"For that, I thank them and acknowledge their genuine patriotism."
Taoiseach Enda Kenny had told the Ard Fheis on Friday that in order to close the gap in public finances, the country's tax base had to be broadened to include a property based charge.
He said this would be "less harmful" than taxes on work and investment.
Mr Kenny continued: "I know that new taxes are never popular. The household charge is no exception. But it is needed to fund essential local services.
"I thank those who have registered and paid for the charge to date and I welcome the significant increase in the numbers registering in recent days.
"I urge others to make their contribution to the restoration of sound public finances in this country," he said.
However, the disclosure that the Environment Minister is refusing to pay service charges on his holiday home in Portugal is sure to be seized upon by those who oppose the imposition of the household charge.
Mr Hogan told the Sunday Independent: "I'm in dispute with these people, the management company, in relation to services which are not provided. Would you pay a charge if you were unhappy with the service?
"There are a number of matters in relation to the apartment that have to be resolved, a number of outstanding issues with a private management company.
"It has been going on a while. I hope to have it resolved fairly soon. But I must say that I am annoyed that details of this have been leaked is order just to try and embarrass me.
"This is a private matter. I am working with the private management company to try to resolve the dispute, which I hope will be resolved."
Mr Hogan refused to go into further detail as to the precise nature of his dispute, stating that he was "entitled to a certain amount of privacy".
In the 2007 TDs' declaration of interest, Mr Hogan disclosed that he was the "part owner of a holiday apartment at Villamoura, Portugal", but he has not had to declare ownership of the property since then.
"I am fully in compliance with the the law in relation to declaration of interests," he stressed.
According to documents seen by the Sunday Independent, a large number of owners of properties at the Bartolomeu Dias and Padro Alvares Cabral do not seem to have paid their services charges.
It is a relatively new complex adjacent to the Victoria Golf Resort and many of the owners are Irish, having purchased their properties within the last few years. According to sources locally, the management of the complex has changed recently.