A DISAGREEMENT on the property tax erupted in County Hall recently, with local Fine Gael councillors going head to head with Sinn Fein over a proposed protest march showing opposition to the tax.
Sinn Fein’s Alan Hand had proposed a motion to call on the government not to impose the property tax, as he described it as “a davastating blow for the people”.
“There are 160,000 distressed mortgages in this country and people are hanging on by their fingernails,” he said.
He pointed out that many people would have bought their houses back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was a high value attached and the new tax is based on the value of the property.
“They’re going to get caught,” he said. “Families are squeezed at the minute. The money collected through this tax is money we’re losing out on the local economy, as people will decide not to pay other things.”
Cllr Hand said he was organising a protest march in Portlaoise on Saturday, to show his opposition to the tax. His party colleague, Cllr Caroline Dwane said that 1.8 million people are left with less than €100 a month to live on after expenses and she pointed out that things have gotten so bad there are soup kitchens opening in Athlone.
“It’s terrible to see we’ve gone to the days when people have to be helped with food,” she said. “They’re already paying for bins, the fire service, school transport, health insurance, tolls, the roads... I could go on. People are struggling to keep the roofs over their heads.”
Cllr Dwane said she was very worried about the elderly and she suggested the government recoup the money by imposing a higher tax on incomes over €100,000.
At that point in the meeting, Fine Gael councillor Matthew Keegan said he was going to organise a protest march too.
“I’m thinking of organising a protest march by the people who have paid it,” he said, refering to the recent household charge which just over 60% ofpeople paid.
Cllr Hand retorted that many people who paid the household charge aren’t going to pay the property tax.
“People are going to be hit with more than €100,” he said.
Cllr Keegan’s party colleague, Cllr Willie Aird remarked that “somebody has to pay for something” and he said that only a handful of people in the country earn over €100,000.
“I paid the €100, it’s the law of the land,” he said. “More people have paid it than haven’t.”
He criticised Cllr Hand for being an elected representative who was telling people to break the law and he recommended waiting for the government’s budget to be announced before making any decisions.
However, Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Jerry Lodge also said he did not think it was the right time for a property tax, although he said that the rate of the levy decided by the government would make up his mind.
Cllr Keegan asked him what had made him change his stance on the issue, as it was Cllr Lodge’s own party that had first proposed the property tax three years ago.
“Not everything Fianna Fáil did I was proud of,” replied Cllr Lodge. “I do not think this is a fair tax, as suggested at any rate.”
Cllr Hand reminded the meeting that in the north of Ireland people pay £700 per year, but this covers everything from septic tanks and bins to school books and healthcare.
“I hope people will stand up against this,” he said.