Property tax protesters disrupt council meeting

Gardaí were called to a meeting of Cork City Council last night after protesters against the household charge and cuts to home help hours held up proceedings.

The protesters entered the galleries around 7.10pm and despite repeated warnings from Lord Mayor John Buttimer about disrupting the meeting, the group began chanting and displaying signs.

Mr Buttimer suspended the meeting and left the chamber. At this point, four protesters entered the chamber with one occupying the Lord Mayor’s chair. The protesters eventually left after gardaí were called. The meeting resumed after approximately 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, more than €8.9m has been collected in household charges from people living in Cork county, but a further push is to be made to encourage defaulters to cough up. The total, so far, is the second highest in the country, after Dublin, where households have already paid €13.6m.

According to county manager Martin Riordan, 62.45% of Cork county’s householders have been compliant to date. But he warned that if the figure does not reach 65% by mid-November, the council would face increased budget cuts which would lead to a reduction in services.

He said, to date, more than 90,000 households in the county had paid — or had been given a waiver because they were exempt as they were living in ghost estates, or in receipt of mortgage interest supplements.

As there are approximately 140,000 households in the county, it means that around 50,000 have still to pay the charge, now €127.

Mr Riordan said, essentially, a further 3,600 householders needed to pay up within the next three weeks so the council could reach the 65% compliance target.

The council is expected to send out 27,000 letters within the next week to householders it believes have not complied.

He said that from the middle of next year the Revenue Commissioners would be targeting those who had still not paid.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan recently told the local authority he was withholding €3.9m in grant aid because the collection rate was not as high as his department demanded.

This forced Mr Riordan to make a number of emergency budget adjustments to several services, including roads, water, public lighting and housing.

At the time, Mr Riordan told councillors the cash-strapped local authority could only find €2.9m in savings.

Since then, however, the minister has softened his line and it is expected if the council makes the 65% mark it will be faced with a budget deficit of around €1m.

Mr Riordan said that people should pay up to ensure the council was able to provide vital services.

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