Fairness should be at the heart of what we do here in the national parliament. The Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill will bring fairness to a situation which I think most people are aware of. The Bill will ensure fairness for those responsible citizens who pay motor tax by closing a loop-hole which has enabled a minority to evade their obligations under the law.
It is, put simply, unfair that those citizens who do not pay their motor tax or who use the retrospective clause enjoy the use of the road network at the expense of those who do pay.
It’s estimated that the Exchequer is losing €50 million each year and it must be remembered that this is €50 million less to spend on the maintenance and upkeep of our roads.
Figures compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor General demonstrate that 1.1 million off-the-road exemption gaps were declared between 2008 and 2011 which represents a 40 per cent increase and a total loss of €226 million for the State. I’m certain that a significant portion of the exemptions were legitimate, and sought by honest and genuine motorists. However, it is also highly likely that a significant percentage were sought for the sole purpose of tax evasion.
Unfortunately, there appears to some difficulty in determining the exact number of motor-tax evasions. A constituent who recently contacted me on the issue of motor tax posed the question, quite correctly in my view, on why this is the case when technology exists that could play a greater role in enforcement. Technology at toll-booths, for example, could actively assist Gardaí in apprehending those who are evading their tax obligations.
In researching this topic it’s noteworthy that many of the changes proposed actually arise out of the deliberations of the Local Government Efficiency Review Group. This group comprised experts from both the public and private sectors and carefully reviewed an array of Local Government areas.
So, it’s unfair to say that the provisions of this Bill are not based on research and examination or represent a knee-jerk reaction.
However, concerns have been raised with me regarding a number of sections.
Subsections 13 and 14 of Section 7, for example, which empower the Minister to prescribe a fee to accompany a Non-Use declaration. I would contend, Minister, in light of the fact that we are already closing a loop-hole and will prevent tax evasion that we do not impose a charge and I am very glad to hear from your Opening speech that the Government does not intend to introduce a fee at this time.
I would also appeal that Section 14 be augmented with a new category of fee-waivers for vintage vehicles. We must recognise the fundamental difference between a car that is used daily for all sorts of purposes and those vintage cars which are kept be enthusiasts or hobbyists for recreational and pastime reasons. We must also realise that a car originating from as recent as the 1980s can be considered vintage and may be kept but not used frequently by citizens.
There are several State agencies or Government departments involved in the implementation of the motor tax system including the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Revenue Commissioners. I think it is very welcome that Section 5 of this bill makes provision for the Transport Minister to operate as a licensing authority. I believe that we should go further and transfer the responsibility for motor tax policy currently under the remit of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I think it would make sense to do this and would improve the motor tax system.
Some in this House have sought to criticise the transferal of the driving licensing function to the Road Safety Authority as proof of some campaign Local Government. This is not true.
There is no campaign against Local Government.
Transferring driving licensing functions is rooted in road safety. It recognises that on passing their test a person will be awarded a driving licence for life – so it makes complete sense for the Road Safety Authority to be central to the driving licence process.
Road safety must be central from the start and this bill, in providing financial arrangements for the transfer from local authority to the Road Safety Authority, helps to ensure this.