Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill 2015
Tuesday, 01 December 2015

During the second stage debate in the Seanad on the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill 2015, I said: he Minister of State is very welcome. The Bill is a very technical and necessary one. I take the opportunity to raise a couple of issues on the overall tax system for vehicles as a whole. We must ask why gardaí are even monitoring whether people pay their motor tax...


 

In reality, checkpoints are a leftover from the 1920s and they are rarely seen in other European countries anymore. This is partly due to our experience during the Troubles I believe. Surely, toll roads and CCTV can be used to monitor tax compliance. Why do we need to use vital Garda resources to monitor tax, which is a civil matter? Do people think gardaí signed up to stand at the side of the road to check tax discs on car windscreens? I think not. The United Kingdom has done away with tax discs completely after 93 years. They had tax discs for 93 years but last year they did away with them and moved to an electronic system, which is much more sensible. Rather than the visual check the tax disc made possible, the UK authorities now use number plate recognition cameras to see if a vehicle has been taxed. Since the system was introduced, the UK authorities have raised 50% more cases against untaxed cars. It is clear that a aarda at a checkpoint is not able to check as many cars as a camera on a motorway. Our system appears - and is - antiquated. Is it possible to look at ways to modernise the system? I would like to know if it is possible to look at ways to modernise the system. All of this should be done online now. The availability of technology means there is little reason for tax discs to be sent in the post. More importantly, gardaí should not have to physically stand at the side of the road to check tax matters. It should be possible for such checks to be done by means of automated cameras, as is the case in other EU countries.

We need to think about freeing up Garda resources to tackle rural crime, which is a big problem. We are making expensive tax collectors of gardaí by making them stand at the side of the road. I would like to go beyond that. We should look at collecting tax in a much more efficient manner. In most countries, there is either motor tax or toll roads but not both. I think it is nonsensical that for some reason we have both motor tax and toll roads. Why do we need a massive system of motor tax administration that involves motor tax offices, Garda monitoring, sending out tax discs, court appearances, filling out forms in Garda stations and so on? There has to be a better way.

I am impressed by the system used in Switzerland, to take one example. I did not know until I discovered it recently that there are no toll roads in that country. Anyone who wants to use a Swiss motorway must buy a vignette, or sticker, which costs approximately €40 a year and can be purchased at any petrol station. All foreign visitors to Switzerland must purchase one also. Fines of approximately €200 are imposed in cases of non-compliance. If we have foreign cars using our roads, surely they should pay €40 based on the Swiss model. Such a contribution would bring more money into our coffers and help to reduce costs for Irish motorists. Does the Minister of State have any views on this? Could the Government undertake a cost-benefit analysis of such a system of fair usage? I do not expect that to be done tomorrow, but I believe it should be possible for such an analysis to be done. The very idea of toll roads is a dated one. Like the turnpikes of the 19th century, some of the modern-day tolls merely serve to slow people on their journeys. We should consider the Swiss model.

The Revenue Commissioners collect income tax, the universal social charge, capital gains tax and corporation tax. Local authorities collect commercial rates, business improvement tax, district taxes and levies and the non-principal private residence tax. The motor taxation office collects motor tax. An Post collects television and dog licence fees. I am not sure whether the dog licence is still around. I cannot believe it is worthwhile. The Private Residential Tenancies Board collects the residential landlord tax. In France, for example, rates are collected with electricity bills. In addition, people who do not have television sets must opt out of the licensing system rather than opting in. Perhaps we should examine the French system, because it seems to be much more efficient. This matter needs much more discussion. There is so much potential here.

I have mentioned some innovative ideas in the area of motor tax and taxation in general. It is possible for us as a nation to take care of them. If we were to do so, I think we would benefit from it as a whole.


For the full text of the debate, please click here.

 
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