Hell for home-owners: stamp duty crippled many first-time buyers

Last week's Budget was the most widely leaked in history. Brian Lenihan had one surprise in store, however.

Stamp duty on all house purchases less than €1m was to be cut to 1% for everybody, first-time buyers included.

Throughout this Great Depression, Lenihan cajoled us into carrying on as usual, telling us to keep spending, to change our car, to buy a house, that it was business as normal in Ireland Inc.

As the dust began to settle on the remnants of Ireland's Gilded Age, myself and my wife had strongly considered emigration. Both of us have already had substantial salary reductions.

She works as a radiation therapist treating cancer patients and [unlike me] her specialised work would have been considered sufficiently useful to qualify for a visa to Canada, Australia or the United States.

We had gone on honeymoon to Canada and ended our stay in the city of Vancouver, which in the bright sunshine of a Pacific evening certainly seemed to offer better prospects than Dublin.

Instead, we opted to remain here, stay where we were born, settle down, try and start a family, contribute to the country's inevitable recovery.

Our first decision then was to buy a home – not a house – and put down roots in a community that we might stay in forever.

I sold the small two-bedroom cottage that I had hardly been able to afford when first bought in 2002, and managed to make a small amount of money on it.

That, I suppose, was my share of the Celtic Tiger, never mind the fact that I paid out many multiples of that profit on mortgage repayments over the years.

We set about finding a perfect house. Our bid was accepted. We paid what we felt was a fair price and then got what was the inevitable bill for stamp duty: all told, slightly over €19,000. If we bought the house today, we would have paid a little more than €4,000. Yet, I feel no pity for myself and only a small level of regret. We make choices all of the time, some of them bad, all of them human.

Like many – probably most – Irish people, it has been a longstanding wish of mine to have a home, a place where I hope to raise a family, a place to put down roots, a house somewhere in the city that I love. And I will have that. I consider myself exceptionally lucky, both me and my wife still have jobs, while more than 400,000 people do not. When emigration crossed our minds, it was then only a choice – not an imperative.

When the people of Fianna Fáil (and the Green Party) come calling to my door next year, I will not even waste my time asking them about my lost stamp duty. Reformation of that tax should have happened years ago and if it had, perhaps... well, that is another story.

Instead, I will ask them why corporation tax is so absolutely untouchable. I will question why an increase of even 0.5% could not be countenanced, just so that we could pretend that big businesses would share this so-called pain.

I will ask why the salaries of TDs and senators were left un­touched and why most of their expenses and allowances remain unvouched, despite the abuses.

I will ask why a new tax band could not have been introduced for income above €100,000. It might not have yielded that much in real terms but, as we're told, every cent would help.

When they fail to answer those questions, I will ask them why the minimum wage had to be cut, when it will yield absolutely nothing to the exchequer and may even end up costing us.

They say everybody has to share the burden, but why did it seem that all but a few symbolic high earners will not be shouldering anything extra?

Finally, when the loyal acolytes of Fianna Fáil and the Greens come calling, I will tell them they are no longer welcome at my door.

And perhaps I may remind them of another piece of legislation that they themselves introduced – the one allowing home-owners shoot unwelcome interlopers on their property.