Saturday 18 November 2017

TDs warn Cowen on property tax

Daniel McConnell and Jerome Reilly

Independents seek meeting to discuss support

Taoiseach Brian Cowen will lose the support of key independent TDs amid a major public backlash over any introduction of a property tax, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Independent TDs Jackie Healy Rae and Michael Lowry are seeking a meeting with Mr Cowen and the chief whip on Tuesday to discuss their ongoing support for his Government over their opposition to a property tax and the proposed ban on stag hunting.

Former Fianna Fail TD for Wicklow Joe Behan has also said he could not support a property tax.

The voice of the public is overwhelming in its opposition to any introduction of a property tax.

According to the latest Sunday Independent/Quantum Research nationwide poll, a huge majority, 78 per cent, were opposed to the introduction of a property tax, and more than half said they would refuse to pay it.

Such a tax would only add to the hardship of homeowners who were already experiencing negative equity and reduced incomes, those opposed to the tax said.

Analysis and poll details Pages 12, 24

Independent TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae, on whom the Government depends for support, have said they are seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach over their continued support for the Government in the Dail.

"My support for this Government cannot be taken for granted," Mr Lowry said.

"Many of the decisions to be taken between now and the Budget will be politically unpalatable to me. I have sought a meeting on my support with the Taoiseach."

On the stag hunting bill, Mr Lowry made it clear he was totally opposed to the Government proposing the change in legislation.

"Why we are dealing with this unnecessary Green legislation when the country is in this economic morass is beyond belief," he added.

Kerry TD Jackie Healy Rae said he was totally opposed to the property tax and that the Government would not get his support on it. He added that, given how slim the majority is, it needs him more.

Mr Healy Rae said: "I have already received calls from my constituents wondering what is this about. The people are struggling. The Government has a slim majority and requires the support of people like me. They won't get it on this one."

He described the property tax as a "back door" route for the reintroduction of rates, which were abolished because they were unfair.

But the rancour about the property tax is not limited to the independents, with many backbenchers within Fianna Fail angry that such a tax would end any chances of them retaining their seats.

Reflecting that concern, outspoken Dublin TD Chris Andrews said that any proposed property tax would not be the right approach to raise revenue, particularly in light of how many homeowners were already struggling with negative equity.

Mr Andrews said: "Given the current difficulties experienced by people in relation to mortgages, I would be strongly opposed to the implementation of any such tax.

"Property values have fallen by an average of 50 per cent and people are struggling to pay for their homes. I believe that a tax on the family home is not the right approach to take."

Potential hikes in mortgage rates and how that would impact on their future repayments was also a very real concern.

There was resistance to the idea of a property tax too because many felt that the money raised would then be used to help prop up the banks and the developers who were responsible for the property bubble in the first place.

"Robbing Peter to pay Paul, this would be the final insult taking tax off people who bought houses in the boom to pay those who caused the bust," one male city respondent said.

Economist Jim Power said yesterday that a property tax was necessary to give balance to Ireland's public finances, but that it must be fair in its implementation.

According to the poll, there was moderate support, 22 per cent, for the introduction of the tax. However, many of those in favour only agreed providing it was aimed at those who owned valuable houses. Others saw a property tax as a necessary evil in the current economic climate with the Government desperate to raise cash to try and plug the hole in the nation's finances.

A majority of 54 per cent of people polled said they would consider not paying the property tax on a point of principle.

Again, their opposition was based on the fact the tax was inequitable, and it would punish those least able to pay.

A huge majority of people, 84 per cent, agreed with the IMF's call for support to be given to homeowners with mortgages in arrears.

Seven out of every 10 people polled felt that stamp duty should either be abolished or substantially reduced, 43 people favoured a significant lowering of rates, while 30 per cent polled said it should be culled altogether.

The nation was split down the middle on whether people should be allowed to carry negative equity forward on to a new mortgage, with 49 per cent in favour and 51 per cent against.

Sunday Independent

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