Fuelled by substantial inward investment, attracted by a pro-business tax regime and a highly educated young workforce, the economy ignited.
As the tiger seeks to find a firmer footing in the international commercial world, attention has been focused on our own infrastructure deficits.
Traffic in Dublin and other cities around the country is at crisis point. The capital risks being crippled by its own success. In response to intense media pressure and public dissatisfaction, the Government established a Cabinet Committee on Infrastructural Development, including Private Public Partnership to address the issues.
Several stopgap measures such as widespread clamping and the introduction of quality bus corridors have made little impact on the problems in the capital. Focused investment is now essential.
The National Development Plan 2000–06 concentrates heavily on the need to upgrade the national roads and has allocated over €5.6 billion for this purpose. Improvement however, is painfully slow.
One might be forgiven for thinking that the inadequacy of our roads might in some way be linked to a proliferation of cheap cars. Conversely however, Ireland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe in which to buy a car, and car ownership levels are among the lowest in the European Union.
Even though pre-tax prices in Ireland are in line with the EU average, the addition of up to 51% (on EU sourced cars) in taxes makes new cars in Ireland among the most expensive in the European Union. Irish cars are overtaxed and there is virtually no saving involved through importation; but is this taxation policy justifiable?
In 1999 the Irish Government netted approximately €3,243 million from the motor industry and this figure looks set to rise sharply this year.
However the Government's fiscal policy over the past number of years has been to lower taxes across the board. Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax and Capital Acquisitions Tax have all seen notable reductions in the past five years. Why then are motor related taxes being maintained at such an inflated level?
The obvious rationale behind a fiscal policy of this sort is to lower the number of vehicles on the road so as to reduce congestion and minimise pollution.
However, the number of new cars registered this year already exceeds the total of 174,229 for 1999. So it would seem that the Irish public in this buoyant economy is not deterred by the excessive prices being charged for new cars.
It must be remembered that Ireland has one of the lowest levels of car ownership in the EU. There are only 31 cars in Ireland per 100 people compared with the EU average of 45.
The difficulty is not with the number of cars on the road but with the number and quality of roads for the cars.
There is therefore little option for the Government other than to ensure the rapid upgrade of the country's infrastructure, which will help to curb congestion and consequently decrease pollution.
In 1999 only 10% of all motoring taxes was spent on roads. It is hoped that in line with the objectives laid out in the National Development Plan 2000–06 the level of expenditure will increase rapidly.
Where a car is used for business purposes but the cost of the vehicle exceeds €22,000, the expenses and wear and tear for which the company or business can take a deduction are restricted.
The policy behind this is to discourage the provision of 'luxury' cars to employees. However, there is not a single Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz available for less than the threshold and would leave one wondering about the Government's definition of a luxury car.
What this provision means in effect is that if you have a car provided by an employer and the cost (as opposed to open market value) of the vehicle exceeds the threshold above, the employer's allowable expenses and wear and tear will be restricted accordingly.
To illustrate, if the car provided for business purposes costs €25,000 and the total business expenses relating to running that car (fuel, insurance, etc.) are €3,000, these will be restricted in the adjusted profit computation of the business or company.
The employer/business/company will be entitled to a deduction in its tax computation of only €2,640 instead of €3,000.
The amount on which the business will be entitled to claim a wear and tear allowance is also restricted.
Ordinarily a business can claim 12.5% of the cost of the car each year over eight years (where cars are purchased post December 4, 2002).
The cost of cars purchased before this date can be written off at 20% on a straight line basis. However where the value of the car exceeds €22,000 the allowance may only be calculated as a percentage of this threshold figure regardless of the actual cost of the car.
Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT)
VRT was introduced on January 1, 1993 on the abolition of excise duty on cars. It is to all intents and purposes Excise Duty by a different name.
In Ireland, Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) is payable on the first time registration of road vehicles regardless of the origin of the vehicle.
In respect of cars, the tax is charged on the open market selling price (OMSP) in Ireland which equates to the retail price of the car i.e. the price at which it is actually sold. The rate of VRT chargeable is determined by the size of the engine.
Vehicles up to 1400cc are charged at 22.5% of the open market selling price (OMSP). Since 1 January 2003, vehicles from 1401cc – 1,900cc are charged at 25% and those with an engine capacity in excess of 1,900cc are charged at 30%.
For illustrative purposes take a 2,000cc car with an OMSP of €25,000 (VAT inclusive). The VRT amount chargeable on the engine capacity of this car is 30% of that OMSP and the amount of VRT payable on this particular example is €7,500.
Motor tax on private cars ranges from €144 for cars with an engine capacity below 1,000cc, to €1,279 for vehicles with greater than 3,001cc engines.
Within these limits the rate of tax varies with every 100cc increase in engine capacity. A special rate of €139 applies to electric-powered cars.
VAT at the rate of 21% is incurred on the purchase of motor vehicles and is irrecoverable apart from a few exceptions.
To compound the problem the Irish Revenue introduced blocking measures to prohibit VAT recovery to foreign lessors despite being specifically allowed under EU VAT law. Representations have been made from time to time by industry to allow for VAT recovery, but to date no action has been taken.
The exceptional circumstances in which VAT recovery is permitted relate to the purchase, hiring, inter-community acquisition, or importation as stock-in-trade or for the purposes of a business which consists in whole or part of the hiring of cars, or for use in a driving school business, for giving driving instruction.
Finance Act 2003 recently introduced changes, with effect from May 1, 2003, which apply to vehicles which have been registered for VRT purposes on that dealers own behalf (for example. demonstration cars registered in the dealers own name).
Broadly, the new legislation requires that motor vehicles pre-VRT registered on the dealers own behalf, are treated as removed from the dealers stock-in-trade and deemed to be “self-supplied” at the cost price (i.e. the dealer must adjust their VAT return by reducing the VAT input credit at the time the motor vehicle was originally acquired).
When the dealer subsequently sells the “self-supplied” vehicle to another person, it is simultaneously deemed to have been reacquired as stock-in-trade by the dealer who is then entitled claim a VAT input credit based on the VAT and VRT inclusive amount of the vehicle.
It is common knowledge among Irish consumers that cars are cheaper in mainland Europe, but is it possible to take advantage of this price differential?
Drivers can of course purchase the car in another EU member state and may bring it back to Ireland without any difficulty, but will pay a price.
All cars that are imported from another Member State (referred to as an 'intra-community acquisition') are subject to Irish VAT at 21% unless they are over six months old and have more than 6,000km on the clock.
All cars imported from outside the EU are subject to VAT at 21% regardless of age or mileage. All cars imported both from the EU and outside the EU are subject to the same VRT rates as Irish cars.
Vehicles imported from outside the EU are subject to an additional 10% customs duty provided no preferential documents are provided at import.
Therefore there is no real benefit unless the pre-tax cost of the car is significantly lower in the foreign state, and statistics show that this is not generally the case.
Under Irish VAT law, a lessee cannot recover Irish VAT incurred on the leasing of cars even where they are used fully for the purpose of a VATable business, for example. a sales representative's car leased by a drinks distributor.
However it should be possible, in view of the judgement in the ARO Leasing case heard before the European Court of Justice, to avoid a VAT cost by leasing cars from a lessor established in another member state.
If an Irish registered entity leases cars from a German lessor, German VAT would be chargeable on the lease rentals but this would be recoverable by the Irish lessee. Irish VAT would be incurred by the German lessor on the purchase of the cars and this should be recoverable.
However the Irish Revenue introduced a blocking measure prohibiting VAT recovery by the lessor on the purchase of the cars in Ireland. This cost would through commercial necessity then be passed on to the lessee, which erodes any tax advantage that would otherwise exist.
In our view this blocking measure is clearly in breach of EU VAT law but to date it has not been challenged.
BIK is charged where a company provides a car for use by an employee.
Currently, where BIK is applicable it is calculated on 30% of the open market value of the car, which can be reduced to 18.5% if all insurance, repairs, servicing, tax, and private fuel costs are borne by the employee.
However, from January 1, 2004, BIK will be calculated on 30% of the open market value of the car with no reduction for amounts borne by the employee in respect of the car costs.
In the current tax year, the total BIK can be reduced further by a percentage ranging between 2.5% and 75% where in excess of 15,000 miles per annum relate to business mileage.
From January 1, 2004, these rates will also change and business mileage completed by an employee will affect the percentage applied to the open market value as opposed to receiving a reduction on the actual benefit amount.
Tax is payable at the employee's marginal rate which is either 20% or 42%.