18 April 2017
By Bryan Smyth
Commenting on the plans of Minister Simon Coveney (Fine Gael) to introduce a new law to allow local authorities to reduce commercial rates, Labour Party spokesperson Jan O’Sullivan has called on the Minister to act on the powers he already has under the Local Government (Rates) Act 1970.
Deputy O’Sullivan said:
“If Simon Coveney genuinely wants to allow local authorities introduce rates waiver schemes, for rejuvenation purposes, as suggested today, all he has to do is stop blocking Councillors from doing so under their 1970 powers.
“The only obstacle standing in the way of this being done right now, under current law, is the Minister himself.
“Schemes have previously been proposed by local authorities but vetoed at inception.
“The Local Government (Rates) Act 1970 allows local authorities make schemes for the waiver of rates.
“Section 2 states that a rating authority may from time to time make and carry out a scheme providing for the waiver by the authority of all or portion of the rates due to it by ratepayers or classes of ratepayers, or in respect of hereditaments of a class or classes specified in the scheme.
“The making of a scheme is a reserved function of the elected members of the council. However, the Department is obviously afraid of giving elected Cllrs real powers.
“Under the law as it stands, a rates waiver scheme is “subject to such regulations as may be made under section 5 of this Act” by the Minister. That section states that regulations may provide for –
the procedure to be followed by a rating authority in making or amending a scheme;
the period in relation to which a scheme may be made;
a scheme to require the consent (which may be general or particular) of the Minister;
the considerations to be taken into account by a rating authority in determining the classes of persons or the classes of hereditaments to which a scheme shall apply;
the conditions subject to which rates (or portion thereof) may be waived under a scheme;
the implementation of a scheme;
the application of a scheme to small dwellings within the meaning of the Local Government Rates on Small Dwellings) Act 1928, or to specified classes of small dwellings, and for appropriate adjustment of rents under that Act.
“Under Section 5, the Local Government (Rates) (Waiver) Regulations 1970 was published nearly 50 years ago. However, the only substantive provision of the regulations states that: “The making or amending of a scheme under section 2 of the Local Government (Rates) Act 1970 shall require the consent of the Minister for Local Government”. Consent may be given in respect of the making or amendment of a particular scheme or may be given generally by the Minister.
“The Minister can already allow local Councillors to develop rates waiver schemes if he was minded to.
“There are currently no guidelines or regulations as to proc edures, time periods, relevant considerations or conditions or the manner of implementation. The only power conferred on the Minister by regulations is the bare power to confer or withhold consent.
“The Minister could publish guidelines and regulations for the type of waiver schemes he would support and provide consent for, without having to wait months for legislation we might never see.”