Seized: UK-registered cars

THE government and the European Commission are being lobbied by a new campaign group to have VRT (Vehicle Registration Tax) abolished.

Over 11,500 people have joined a Facebook group called 'Ban VRT Now' since the campaign began in Donegal three months ago and it has already received the unanimous cross-party support of members of Donegal County Council.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that a petition signed by thousands of supporters will be presented to the European Commission in the coming days.

VRT was introduced for Irish motorists in 1993, as a measure to replace Irish excise duty charges that were no longer possible after Ireland joined the EU single market. The tax has been applied to every car, new or used, that has been imported since then.

As the Irish exchequer has been cash-starved in the recession the customs and revenue officers have cracked down heavily on Irish motorists driving UK-registered cars in recent months with hundreds of cars being seized.

As a result of the 'heavy-handed' crackdown, Donegal resident Ryan Stewart started the campaign to have VRT abolished in favour of a user-based system. His group has come up with a number of detailed proposals on how the tax could be abolished without causing a massive shortfall in revenue receipts.

Stewart said: "Our government needs to accept that VRT is never again going to reach the €1.4bn that it did in 2007. If they accept the detailed proposals that we have presented we could stabilise the tax base across all cars to a fairer 'usage based' system as opposed to new car sales which we can see today are highly volatile."

The group's calls for a 'usage based' system are in line with Green Party policy which advocates placing more excise duty on fuel to recoup the revenue foregone through the abolition of VRT.

Last year's commission on taxation report also recommended that: "The VRT system should be replaced by a system based on car usage in the longer term. Such a system should be introduced over a 10-year period in order to minimise adverse impacts in relation, for example, to the existing fleet of tax-paid vehicles."

All 29 Donegal county councilors have supported the motion. At EU level MEP Marian Harkin is raising the matter and a petition will be presented to the European Parliament's petitions committee. Stewart has also met with revenue officials to ensure that due process will be afforded to everyone suspected of evading the tax.

The proposals include a VRT amnesty for all foreign vehicles to allow owners to legally import vehicles with a handling fee for registration similar to that of commercial vehicles, the removal of VRT after six months to be replaced with a flat rate €100 fee and an increase of 4c per litre on petrol and 2c per litre on diesel.