Cowen accused of stalling over second home perk

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was last night accused of “stalling” over revealing whether he claims a controversial tax perk for the upkeep of second homes.

Mr Cowen’s officials said it would take “a number of days” to find out the information when contacted by the Irish Examiner on Monday, but opposition TDs said it was a simple yes or no issue and the Taoiseach should inform taxpayers urgently if he availed of the financial relief or not.

As well as the Taoiseach, Education Minister Batt O’Keefe and five other normally publicity-hungry Cabinet colleagues are also keeping voters guessing as to whether they are claiming the €100,000 a year tax relief for “maintaining” homes – prompting opposition TDs to dub the members “the Secret Seven”.

The ministers can even claim money for “maintaining” a hotel room in the capital under provisions the Taxation Commission has said needs radical reform.

Mr Cowen and all Cabinet and junior ministers can take advantage of the tax relief – and many have done so to the tune of €550,000 over a five year period.

As the benefit is unusually paid in the form of a tax relief, Revenue cannot divulge which ministers have claimed and for what type of “maintenance”.

Ministers do not have to provide receipts when claiming the perk, which has averaged around €5,500 per year for those who take advantage of it.

Labour housing spokesperson Ciarán Lynch questioned the delay in the Taoiseach making his status clear.

“It would appear that he, and many of his Cabinet colleagues are stalling at the moment. This should be a matter of public record,” he said.

Mr Cowen has a property portfolio which includes his family home in Offaly, flats in Dublin and an investment in an apartment complex in Leeds.

As well as Mr O’Keefe, Willie O’Dea, Noel Dempsey, Éamon O Cuív, Martin Cullen and Dermot Ahern have yet to reveal their status.

The Irish Examiner’s revelation of the amount of money ministers were claiming back under the dual abode allowance prompted widespread anger and a pledge for the payment to be abolished by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny if he gets into power.

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