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Dáil Speech on Local Government (Household Charges) Bill

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: I am pleased to speak on the Bill. I am delighted to see some of the Independent Members remaining in the House. It is unusual for them to do so, as they usually rush out after they speak.

The people were conned in 1977 when Fianna Fáil bought an election through the removal of rates. We have been honest in what we said today. We are introducing a household charge. When the Minister introduced the Bill he said it was an interim measure until we can put in place a fair valuation system, which means that those living in large properties, the wealthy the Opposition constantly condemns, will pay a larger share of tax.

I came across a quote recently: “The abolition of domestic rates caused great damage to local government and real local democracy. Since 1977 local government has been funded principally from central government and with the central funding came a much greater degree of centralised control, moving democracy further and further away from the citizen.” I am delighted the quote came from a book called The House Always Wins: Time to Turn the Tables. I do not see Deputy McGuinness in the Chamber but I welcome his input.

It is not a popular position but the reality is that domestic rates payable to local authorities make local politics serious and connect people in a direct way with their politicians. I hope Deputy McGuinness will consider voting with the Government on this Bill.

I must also criticise Sinn Féin and its criticism of the Minister. It has no problem supporting a 2.5% increase in household rates in the North, yet is strenuously voting against the Bill. Deputy Stanley tabled an amendment to introduce a new section which states: “This Act, as agreed, will be temporary in nature. It will have to be reviewed within 12 months from the date it becomes law.” I hope he will agree with what the Minister introduced and that the charge is an interim measure. When proper valuations are done we will be able to introduce the Bill properly.

The NPPR payment is currently paid directly to local authorities. It is the intention of the Minister that the Local Government Management Agency would be the main collector of the household charge which would go into the local government fund. Those of us who came from local government will realise that the local government fund does not fairly distribute funding to counties.

In my county, Kildare, we have been fighting hard with the Department to get proper funding for the local authority. We have a much larger population and car usage within the county. The Minister might consider allowing local authorities rather than the local government management agency to collect the charge.

The tax is being imposed on the owners of properties. Some people who own second properties are being charged the NPPR and it seems slightly unfair that they will also have to pay the household charge. The dictionary definition of a household is “A house and its occupants which are regarded as a unit.” Most occupants of rented properties will not pay the charge. The Minister might consider changing that provision in the Bill.

Aside from this, I welcome the Bill. What happened in 1977 was a retrograde step for the country and local democracy.

ENDS