Thursday 17 October 2019

Fine Gael property tax pledge branded 'fantasy stuff' as election war begins

Shane Cassells: Said councils were 'starved like a mangy dog'. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Shane Cassells: Said councils were 'starved like a mangy dog'. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Fine Gael promise to reduce the Local Property Tax (LPT) at council level has been criticised as "fantasy stuff" by Fianna Fáil.

But the party declined to provide detail on what it would promise in relation to the LPT in its own local election manifesto, which has yet to be released.

Shane Cassells, the party's deputy director for the local elections, has said that "cash-strapped" local authorities did not have the budget surpluses that would be required to reduce the LPT.

He branded Fine Gael's proposals as "voodoo mathematics".

He said that, in general, his party has "pledged nobody will pay more than they are already paying and that we want a proper reform".

Fine Gael junior minister Patrick O'Donovan hit back at the claims, challenging the rival party to explain how it would reform the tax and accusing it of "flip-flopping" on the issue.

Mr Cassell's remarks came after the Irish Independent revealed that a draft version of Fine Gael's manifesto commits its potential councillors to working towards lowering LPT rates.

The move goes directly against a key recommendation in a Government report, which says the ability of politicians to cut property taxes should be taken away.

It also comes after Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe postponed any changes to the current regime by another 12 months.

The draft manifesto says this decision was taken to build consensus for LPT changes and says the party is committee to a "fair" LPT.

It also says: "Fine Gael councillors will work to ensure that, where possible, the LPT rate levied by the council is reduced."

Under the current situation, each local council has the option of increasing or reducing the tax by a maximum of 15pc.

All four Dublin local authorities reduced LPT for 2019, but elsewhere, five other councils raised the LPT rate by varying amounts.

Mr Cassells accused Fine Gael of shirking responsibility by deferring any changes to LPT to 2021 - claiming they "kicked it down the road because they know they're going to have a bad local elections".

He argued that the pledge in its draft manifesto is a bid to "buy votes through naked electioneering".

Mr Cassells said councillors should exercise discretion to lessen the tax burden on households when local authorities have a budget surplus.

He said he would like it if all councils were running "massive surpluses", but claimed that "they're not because they've been starved like a mangy dog by central government".

Mr Cassells added: "They're not in the position to actually give people the tax cut that they deserve".

Mr O'Donovan claimed that Fianna Fáil's position over LPT changes depended on the circumstances.

He accused the party of a "flip-flop" in agreeing to the principle of a property tax with the EU/IMF/ECB Troika during the economic crisis, and then "cynically opposing it" when the later Fine Gael-led coalition introduced the measure.

Mr O'Donovan argued that the LPT had to be brought in to "clear up their [Fianna Fáil's] shambolic economic management".

He also said that Mr Cassells "seems keen to reform LPT immediately".

He added: "Can I ask, how will Fianna Fáil deal with the issue?"

Fianna Fáil's local manifesto is not due to be published until next month.

Irish Independent

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