GRASSROOTS: Would lowering property tax only benefit the well off?

Wednesday September 17 saw an historic and crucial meeting of the Galway City Council take place with regard to the Local Property Tax. Irish democracy had a great outing and Insider was there to see and report on it.

Elected local politicians flew the flag for Ireland’s unique brand of democracy. Those whom we might categorise as right-wing turned out to be Socialists - Independent Declan McDonnell and Fine Gael’s Pádraig Conneely in particular, while some who beat their chests for ‘the common good’, self styled Socialists like Independent Catherine Connolly put shoulder to the wheel for society’s better-off.

The Sinn Fein motion proposing a reduction of 15 per cent in the LPT would have disproportionately benefited the wealthy. Ordinary working class people living in a house valued up to €100,000 would have made an annual gain of €13.50 while the rich accountant with a dwelling of €1 million would have gained €263.25.

Cllr Connolly and Sinn Féin project themselves as being primarily concerned with the plight of those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, yet on the night, they blatantly advocated a measure that would have benefited for the wealthiest. It seems it’s Tiocfaidh Armani time.

Insider believes the LPT was exploited ruthlessly, by Sinn Féin in particular, but also by Cllr Connolly. Fianna Fáil tepidly rowed in behind for the sake of opposition - noses still being out of joint since the party’s demise from power after the local elections and still in the mood for throwing the toys out of the pram. This was all done irrespective of the cost to any principles FF may claim to possess.

Populist politics

In other democracies, a property tax is accepted as being a prudent and socially just form of taxation. The bigger your house the more you pay. That Wednesday council meeting was concerned with the most routine political choice in developed democracies. Should priority be given to cutting taxes or ensuring that there is sufficient money to spend on services?

Up to then we had a myriad of opinions from academics, ill informed commentators, vested interests, and frequently the oppositionists from the Far Left who have opposed every single suggestion as to how we should finance our system fairly and with democratic accountability. Cllr Connolly and Sinn Féin continued in this vein on the night without an ounce of economic thinking.

Insider contends that, too often, the voice of the constructive Left has been sidelined and the platform left to the opportunists. Across the world, Socialists and Social Democrats advocate payment into a collective fund, toward the provision of collective services. All across the world, that is, except for the ‘Looney Left’, the ‘Trendy Left’, and the Nationalist Left, in Ireland. Here they simply oppose, campaign, and seek to instil fear and selfish individualism. Their agenda must be opposed just as much as we oppose those who broke this country and brought it to its knees.

No councillor throughout the State wants to advocate more tax. However, surely Ireland has had enough of those who promise, without cost, and who offer public services, eg, seven day burial services, museum opening hours, matching funding for Corrib Rangers, St James GAA club and Cappagh Park sport facilities, without any reference to payment or appropriate taxation?

The truth is that since the populist and cowardly abolition of domestic rates by Fianna Fáil, local government has been starved of funding. The promise to reimburse councils for the rates foregone has been honoured by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition Government. The property tax also means councils have a tool with which to fund themselves. This devolves considerable power back to councillors. The first occasion that this power was exercised was depressing to say the least with Cllr Connolly, Sinn Féin, and Fianna Fail engaged in the worst form of auction politics.

‘Cynical’

Cllr Connolly and Sinn Fein argued that all councils shared the goal of reducing the financial burden on hard-pressed families in the area. ‘Families’ is one of those political terms that means absolutely nothing, but sounds just the business. Families surviving on a minimum wage income and those of a wealthy surgeon or barrister live on different planets, yet for the sake of votes, their respective circumstances were portrayed as identical.

Nobody likes the local property tax. It was brought in at the worst time possible, during a recession. Privately, most politicians agree it is a necessary form of income that is progressive in taxation terms. It is certainly an astute method of providing funding for local government, and by extension giving councillors some control over taxing and spending.

At that Galway City Council meeting, it was obvious that the LPT’s role as a political lightning rod is viewed by opportunist, populist, politicians as something to exploit mercilessly, irrespective of the cost to any principle they may claim to possess.

Cynical is too tame a word to describe the behaviour of Cllr Connolly, Sinn Féin, and Fianna Fáil. That cynicism was rightly exposed on the night, in particular by councillors Billy Cameron, Declan McDonnell, and Pádraig Conneely, and to a lesser extent by councillors John Walsh and Noel Larkin.

Councils in Galway city and county and Kerry opted to maintain the tax at its current level, which may or may not say something about the strength of community glue in those places. The vote on September 17 was about the future funding of projects in our city, not about the future political ambitions of Cllr Connolly and Sinn Féin.

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