Tax pledges risk taking us back to the future

POLITICS is probably the toughest of all trades. And it is even trickier these days.

Most Irish people feel the nation is over the recession hump. But, while they are still bruised from the shock of what happened in 2008, they are also looking for tangible evidence that they are doing better.

No mystery about that “tangible evidence”. Try a few extra quid in the pocket for an evening out or some other small treat.

Believe it or not, our mainstream politicians are very aware of this. In recent days, we have seen Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesman, Barry Cowen, write to his party’s councillors telling them to avoid increases in the local property tax next year.

Mr Cowen’s message related to the 15pc discretion given to councillors to either increase or decrease the local tax, provided it does not affect their council’s overall budget. The overall property tax rates are otherwise frozen until 2019, little more than a year away, and as property prices are taking off again, there is little imagination required to envisage another big battle on the horizon.

So, in a similar vein yesterday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was put on the spot on the issue by reporters. But he went so far as to hint that the current freeze may be extended beyond 2019.

The election calendar may help us understand a little more here. We may very well have a Dáil election in the first half of next year.

We are scheduled to have local council and European elections in May 2019. The property tax will be a hot issue on doorsteps in suburbs where houses are notionally soaring in price but where settled residents have no plans to sell.

It is right and good for our key politicians to give citizens solace about property tax in the near future. But this one is also complex and multifaceted.

The question of local employment and services has to be weighed in the balance. So too has the urgent need to broaden our tax base beyond taxes on work. In sum, rash local tax pledges risk taking us back to the future.

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