Coalition tension over handling of exemptions

Tensions are growing between the Coalition partners over the handling of last week’s announcement of exemptions to the property tax, which one junior minister admitted was “a mess”.

Labour Party’s Sean Sherlock issued a thinly-veiled attack on Phil Hogan, the environment minister, who flew out to Brussels last week as his department revealed that a large number of ghost estates would have to pay the tax.

This left Labour ministers Jan O’Sullivan and Pat Rabbitte defending the announcement that just 421 out of the 1,770 unfinished housing estates will be exempt from the tax, which comes into effect in July.

“If you are a Government minister and you are the line manager for your department, I think you need to be upfront about it, ok,” Mr Sherlock told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

He said there is a collective decision by two parties in Government but “a mess has been made about how this has been communicated”.

He added: “The Government needs to do right by the people in terms of communicating how the exemptions would work.”

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said it was known that Mr Rabbitte and Ms O’Sullivan were “quite unhappy with the way they were landed in this particular issue”.

He said: “The reason they had to defend it is, literally, Mr Hogan has been removed from any public profile along with Minister [for Health James] Reilly. So Fine Gael has obviously made the decision that Minister Hogan and Minister Reilly equals lost votes.”

Meanwhile, the Government was accused of getting “the jitters” about a massive public backlash to austerity, following reports that the water charge, due to come into effect in 2014, will be postponed to 2015.

The Department of the Environment said it is still the intention to introduce the charges next year, but that any discussion with the troika to defer the charge is a matter for Brendan Howlin, the minister for public expenditure and reform.

It was reported that the Government will seek approval for the deferral of the charge at the next quarterly review of the bailout programme.


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