Carrick-on-Suir Town Council’s elected members have written to Environment Minister Phil Hogan voicing their opposition to rent increases being imposed on local authority tenants to fund councils’ property tax bills.
And they have also called on the Minister in the letter to repeal the controversial tax.
Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Liam Walsh is spearheading the elected Council’s renewed campaign of political lobbying against the property tax.
The Sinn Fein councillor tabled a motion at this month’s Town Council meeting requesting his colleagues to oppose any rent increase on local authority housing to help councils fund their property tax bills.
The motion was unanimously supported though Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members clashed over the Government’s decision to press ahead with the tax.
Before the Town Council meeting, members of the Carrick-on-Suir Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes along with representatives of Ireland Says No To The Bailout group protested against the Property Tax outside the Town Hall.
Elaine Power said they staged the protest to highlight to local public representatives the plight of ordinary people for whom this “unfair and unjust” Property Tax will “put them over the edge”.
Inside the Council chamber, Cllr Walsh called for the tax to be repealed at the meeting. He condemned it as an unfair and unequal levy as it didn’t take into account householders’ ability to pay if they were senior citizens, living on social welfare, in arrears on their house mortgage or living in a home in negative equity. All these people were struggling to survive but there was no waiver scheme.
He was also angry that the Government wanted local authorities to pay the tax and fund it through increasing tenants weekly rent.
Cllr Walsh pointed out that at the Town Council’s annual Budget meeting in December councillors insisted there would be no increase in council house rents this year.
Fianna Fail councillors Kieran Bourke and Sylvia Cooney Sheehan agreed with his sentiments. It was the wrong tax at the wrong time they said. They called on the rest of the elected council to take a stand on this issue and vote against the Town Council’s 2014 budget in December if it included a rent increase to pay for the property tax.
“If he (the Minister) wants to abolish the Council, so be it. I feel we should protect the tenants,” said Cllr Bourke.
The prospect of abolition didn’t concern Cllr Cooney-Sheehan because the local authority was being scrapped anyway under local government reforms.
Independent Cllr O’Loughlin condemned the high earnings of government ministers, who expected people to pay the property tax when they could barely put food on the table.
He along with fellow Independents Patsy Fitzgerald and Richie O’Neill also voiced their support of Cllr Walsh’s motion and so did government party members Cllr Sarah Dunne of Labour and Cllr Margaret Croke of Fine Gael.
Cllr Fitzgerald asked had the Council any plan in place in relation to funding and paying the Property Tax?
Cllr Dunne said she had lobbied Labour TDs and senators to oppose the introduction of this tax, which she believed was regressive.
Cllr Croke said she hoped council tenants won’t have to pay higher rents but pointed out that the country was broke and the Government had to find the money somewhere.
She stressed she wasn’t advocating the property tax but unfortunately governments had to make unpopular decisions. That was why the electorate voted for them. “We can’t make a silk purse out of a cows ear,” she said. But Cllr Bourke shot back with another cliché: “We can’t draw blood out of stone.”
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan complained that the Fine Gael/Labour coalition was elected to introduce change but it hadn’t done this. The government was going back to the same pot all the time to collect taxes and wasn’t targeting the rich enough. TDs were still earning too much and the rich were getting richer, she added.
In response, Cllr Croke maintained the property tax was initially planned by the previous Fianna Fail led government and argued the Fine Gael/Labour coalition only realised how bad the economy was when they came into power.
Meanwhile, Town Clerk Michael O’Brien said local authorities were awaiting guidelines from the Department of Environment as to how to proceed in relation to payment of the Property Tax. He promised to updated councillors as soon as they received those guidelines.