Saturday 20 July 2019

Cormac McQuinn: 'Property tax debate the latest example of how Cabinet is not immune to 'parish pump''


Culture and Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan. Photo: Peter Cavanagh Photography
Culture and Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan. Photo: Peter Cavanagh Photography
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

It was the late US congressman Thomas 'Tip' O'Neill who said "all politics is local".

And Minister Josepha Madigan's intervention on property tax is perhaps a classic example of this.

Ms Madigan's call for lower Local Property Tax (LPT) rates for places with higher property values, such as her Dublin Rathdown constituency, has predictably sparked Opposition criticism.

It also shows how Ireland's parish-pump style of politics continues, even at Cabinet level.

And while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe were cautious in their response to their Fine Gael colleague's proposals, they did not shoot it down amid an ongoing review of the LPT system.

The Culture Minister's Dublin Rathdown constituency has some of the highest house prices in the country.

Older people on fixed incomes are concerned about the impact of possible changes to the LPT regime.

The current LPT system is based on valuations of prices during the economic crash, but prices have risen considerably since then.

Unless the system is changed, people in south Dublin will be hit with potentially massive LPT hikes next year. The system is being reviewed by the Department of Finance.

Fianna Fáil has criticised Ms Madigan's proposals and has said it will be seeking further clarity from the Government on plans for the LPT.

Last night, Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty accused Fine Gael of a push to "shield the wealthiest in society from paying their fair share" and argued that the LPT should be abolished outright.

Mr Varadkar did not say if he supports Ms Madigan's proposal, though he acknowledged there's concern over the tax in his own Dublin West constituency.

He said the Government is examining changes and it's not the intention to dramatically increase the LPT yield.

He said: "We'll have to make changes in the bands and in the rate as well so that people see no increase or perhaps only a modest increase or a modest decrease in 2020 after the revaluation."

Mr Donohoe restated his position that any changes will be "affordable and predictable".

He said there are "many different options" when asked if he supported Ms Madigan's suggestion, but said he is not in a position to comment on any particular proposal.

He said he would discuss the issue with Ms Madigan and other Cabinet colleagues in the coming weeks.

Ms Madigan is not the only Dublin Rathdown TD to make proposals on LPT.

Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross has demanded LPT exemptions for pensioners. Ms Madigan and Mr Ross also have form in terms of local rivalry in a tight, three-seat constituency.

Both welcomed the decision to reopen Stepaside garda station amid heavy Opposition criticism of the plan.

Ms Madigan told the Irish Independent recently that she tries to strike a balance, saying: "You have to be re-elected by your constituency, but you shouldn't forget the national issues as well."

It's not the only case of Cabinet ministers getting caught up in local issues, even in recent times.

It emerged last week that Independent Alliance Super Junior Minister Finian McGrath opposes a development of more than 370 apartments in Marino in his Dublin Bay North constituency.

Mr McGrath insisted he's "very much aware" of the housing shortage and isn't opposed to development at the site, but argued the project's size is "totally out of kilter" with the area.

He previously made no apologies for pushing for what he himself described as "local parish pump stuff", including improvements for Beaumont Hospital - which he says will help benefit patients from other areas too.

The debate over the LPT is just the latest case of how Cabinet is not immune to the parish pump.

Irish Independent

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