It’s no wonder the Government plans to hold the Dublin Bay South by-election during the summer. The sun will be out, hopefully, and you’ll be able to eat and drink indoors if the weather is bad. You might even be able to attend a GAA match or a horse racing meeting. Such joys.
The alternative would have been to wait until the Dáil returns in the autumn. Children going back to school, weather getting worse and the Government slashing welfare payments for people who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The Dáil will also be preparing to vote on legislation that will impose property tax bills for the first time on around 100,000 people; and 648,000 homeowners who were paying fixed rates for the past eight years will see their bill rise by at least €90.
Not exactly the ideal backdrop for a by-election. By holding it in the summer months, the hope is the Government will get its own vaccine bonus as more people are jabbed and restrictions continue to be eased. But as happy as people will be to get back to some form of normality, they will still be thinking about their pockets, and you can be sure there will be plenty of voters in Dublin Bay South who won’t be thanking the Government for their new property tax bill.
Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party will be campaigning on the basis of abolishing property tax exemptions for people who bought new homes between 2013 and now.
The Government will argue it’s only fair this group pays its fair share when 1.9 million other homeowners have been paying the charge for years. It will say that to do so it had to tinker with the tax bands and, unfortunately, some will get bigger bills.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin will be knocking on doors, insisting it will abolish property tax and the €560m in annual revenue that comes with it. Hard to compete with that during an election campaign, even if you leave aside the fact Sinn Féin charges Northern Ireland homeowners domestic rates.
The Government’s view is ithat t’s better to take the decision on property tax now rather than wait around until later in its term in office when it’s close to a general election. The number of people exempt from the tax would also be far in excess of 100,000 if it waited a few more years.
The unwinding of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is also set to become a significant political issue as it is reduced incrementally from September. Yesterday, Sinn Féin deputy leader and finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said he would like to see the pandemic supports ended “naturally” – whatever that means.
Labour Party finance spokesperson Ged Nash said cutting the payment by €50 in September was “an insult” to people who were unlikely to go back to a normal working life any time soon. There will be many hard cases.
Next year, there will be people still relying on the PUP who may also be landed with a property tax bill for the first time. Joe Duffy will be worth a listen that week.
The Government will insist the PUP was an emergency measure during the pandemic, which is true, but that will mean nothing to people who were once happy to work but will be asked to survive on €203 a week.