Paying the €100 household charge was described as an act of “genuine patriotism to this country at this difficult time” by Environment Minister Phil Hogan, who led the attack at the ard fheis against the Socialist TDs opposing the charge.
He said those who have “stepped up to” the payment “are the people who are standing by democracy”.
Mr Hogan added that “those people who have paid recognise the national financial difficulty at this time”.
As protesters began gathering outside the National Convention Centre in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, Mr Hogan addressed a group of around 100 delegates in a discussion forum on “planning for a better future”.
He said the money generated by the charge will be ringfenced to support local services.
Mr Hogan said: “There is no other pot of money available. This is about local communities committing to protect local services.”
He went off-script to condemn what he called the “so-called socialists” leading the campaign of non-payment.
He said they want “more income tax on working people, more tax on small business, more tax on jobs”.
“Fine Gael rejects this approach and the people democratically voted for that policy in their droves in 2011,” he said.
Despite financial pressures and despite the “newness of the concept” of the household charge, Irish people “have stepped up and registered in their hundreds of thousands”, Mr Hogan said.
“For that I thank them and acknowledge their genuine patriotism to this country at a difficult time.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister.
“The people who are outside today protesting carry our flag as if they are somehow greater patriots than the people in this room,” Mr Coveney said.
“Well, they are not. It will be the patriotism of this party that knows what’s best for our country and (that) needs to persuade people in terms of the path to get us there.”
Most of the delegates at the ard fheis rallied around Mr Hogan, refusing to blame him for the fiasco that left close to a million households un-registered for the charge.
Some Fine Gael delegates laid the blame for the way the issue was handled with the Department of the Environment staff and local authorities.
Fine Gael TDs privately said some local authorities had not done enough in collecting the money.
Mr Hogan said the charge was a result of the “legacy” left behind by the last government. “If there was a credible alternative we would have pursued it,” he said.
“I have sought to protect the most vulnerable in society and have exempted large numbers of groups that are in greatest need.”
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