by Theo Russell
THE IRISH government is facing a mass revolt as anger against the bankers, rampant corruption and austerity has crystallised around opposition to a new €100 household charge.
By the 31st March deadline for the new charge 59 per cent of the 1.86 million eligible households had failed to register, despite council offices being ordered to stay open on the final Saturday.
The tax has brought people’s anger to the boil after seeing almost half a million of them have been thrown out of work out of a population of 4.5 million, over 700,000 living in poverty, cuts to disability and fuel allowances, hikes in service charges, and mostly young people leaving Ireland at a rate of 75,000 a year to find work.
There have already been five emergency budgets and at least four more years of austerity are expected, probably more.
Prime minister Enda Kenny claims his Fine Gael/Labour coalition had no choice but to impose the charge as part of efforts to emerge from the crisis, and bleated: “The household charge is the law of the land”. But it seems for most of his fellow citizens it is one tax too many.
Meanwhile a recent wealth report estimated that over 18,000 super wealthy in Ireland “have recovered their wealth to 2005 levels” by shifting assets from property to commodities. The top 300 richest people saw their wealth rise by around €12 billion between 2009 and 2011, in the midst of a deep economic crisis.
The final report of the 15-year-long Mahon Tribunal into official corruption, published in March, detailed the collusion between the establishment parties and super-rich developers that led to the 2007 banking crash. This in turn resulted in savage austerity and billions of euros being handed over in bailouts to the failed banks and “billionaire bondholders”.
On 31st March almost 15,000 people from every corner of Ireland joined a rowdy protest outside the right-wing Fine Gael party conference in Dublin and jostled with police and officers on horseback, jeering and heckling anyone with a conference pass. One man mistaken for the minister responsible for the charge had to be rescued from an angry scrum.
A handmade poster showed Enda Kenny and other politicians with the bodies of serpents and said: “Come back St Patrick, it’s still full of snakes.”
The new tax, which looks set to become Ireland’s poll tax, emerged from negotiations with the dreaded “Troika” (the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund), which demanded savage spending cuts and tax increases in return for bailout funds. The Troika specifically highlighted a new property-based tax as a way to generate cash.
People who fail to register face fines of up to €2,500 and €100 for every day the tax is not paid, and even many older people dependent on the meagre state pension are eligible. In addition, this year’s flat-fee €100 is expected to shoot up next year when it will be set according property values, to be quickly followed by a new water charge.
Sinn Féin’s local government spokesperson, Brian Stanley TD, has warned that the household charge could bankrupt many local councils, as the government has slashed their funding by 84 per cent and is depending on a 100 per cent payment rate to compensate for this.
He said the country’s largest local authority, Dublin, has been forced to sell off its domestic waste collection service in order to keep functioning.
Sinn Féin, which clearly emerged as the main party calling for a “no” vote in the referendum on the EU fiscal pact and has seen its poll ratings surge to 18 per cent (third behind Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil), has scheduled a vote in the Dail on 20th June to abolish the new charge, reimburse those who have already paid, and in Stanley’s words “consign the Household Charge to the rubbish bin of history”.
In its place Sinn Féin is proposing a new 48 per cent tax on earnings over €100,000, closing a loophole allowing companies to write down tax receipts, abolishing reliefs on property legacies, and capping public servants’ salaries at €100,000, any one of which would be more than enough to fund local government services.
Stanley called for support for the bill with a warning to the Dublin establishment: “The household charge is an unjust charge that should be withdrawn, before it brings this government into conflict with our communities.”