Are you paying household charge?

NOT PAYING - Sinéad O’Connor, singer

* Are you paying the household charge?

* I’m not paying yet.

I’m interested because it’s the first time Irish people en masse have made any kind of protest about being crucified.

PAYING - Norah Gibbons, Barnardos director:

* Are you paying the household charge?

* I’ve paid the household charge.

I paid it because it’s the law and also because I know that the money is ring-fenced for the provision of local services in our communities, services which we all need.

However, I’d prefer if they had taken a more progressive approach to the rollout of the charge. In its present format, it’s not fair to everyone — €100 is not easy to come by for many families in these difficult times.

PAYING - Jim Power, economist:

* Have you chosen to pay the household charge?

* The current campaign against the minimal household charge will set a very dangerous precedent if it is successful.

It raises the spectre of somebody who deems any aspect of the law of the land as unfair to decide to ignore it.

If we go down the road of breaking the law because we believe it to be unfair, we will create a total disrespect for the law and the logical conclusion is that we will gradually descend into a state of anarchy.

PAYING - George Hook, rugby pundit and Newstalk presenter:

* Are you paying the household charge?

* Yes, I’ve already paid it.

For one thing, I can afford to pay it. A tax is also decided by Government and as citizens we have to pay it. I realise this is an unfair tax because it treats poorer people the same as the rich, but it is still a tax you have to pay.

NOT PAYING - Derek Daniels, Assets model agency manager:

* Are you paying the household charge?

* No I’ve not paid it and I won’t be.

They’ve already taken more than enough from me and no one can afford it. What will they be asking for next?

PAYING - Dermot Jewell, chief executive of the Consumer Association of Ireland:

* Are you paying the charge?

* Yes I have paid it, because the reality of life is that Ireland needs this payment paid.

It’s a changed Ireland, a changed situation, and while it might be difficult for people to pay it it’s what is needed now.

PAYING Ivan Yates, broadcaster,ex-minister and Irish Examiner columnist:

* Are you paying the household charge?

* Yes, because it’s the law.

‘Play your part in the protection of local services’

CASE FOR CHARGE

Phil Hogan

WE HAVE made some significant progress in stabilising our economic and political systems over the last year, but I know it hasn’t been easy for already hardpressed families. To get a sense of where we have come from as a country, just look at where we were over a year ago — our public finances were out of control, the banks were on the brink of collapse, we had lost our good internal reputation and the Government was in total chaos. A year on and this Government, with the support of the people, has worked relentlessly to overcome those problems and address the difficulties, and, we have made a solid start.

Building on the work we have done to date in stabilising the public finances and the banking system, we are now focused on the wider economic reforms needed to accelerate jobs growth and get the country working again. And there are some positive signs that real progress is being made: Exports are up, tourism numbers are up, numbers employed went up in the fourth quarter of last year for the first time in four years, and the cost of our debt repayments is down after the rates we pay were renegotiated.

But, ultimately, the Irish people are the ones are still bearing the brunt of the bad decisions taken by previous administrations. Bad decisions that leave us still trying to bridge an €18bn budget deficit. Ordinary people have had a tough time and in spite of that, hundreds of thousands of people understand that one measure my department have responsibility for, the household charge, is important. By paying it, they have made a further contribution to getting our country back on an even keel. And I would like to thank them for that.

As a Government, we are making decisions that will reform the systems that have lost sight of you, the citizens they’re supposed to serve. Nobody wants to pay a household charge and if I had other credible options to secure funding for local services I would pursue them. But behind the concept of the household charge is a very important principle.

For us, there are three main reasons the household charge is necessity. The first one is, the EU/IMF programme of financial support, which commits us to the introduction of a property tax in 2012. A property tax, requiring a comprehensive property valuation system, would take time to introduce, so instead, the Government decided to introduce the household charge for this year. It is an interim measure only and I will introduce a comprehensive and equitable valuation-based property tax as soon as I possibly can.

The second reason is that, for too many years, previous governments made short-sighted and easy decisions in relation to the tax base. In contrast to that approach, we made a conscious decision not to increase your income tax as we believe that would be a tax on your work and effort — we must lessen the impact on growth and support employment.

Local property taxes, in the form of domestic rates, were a central feature in the financing of local government up to 1977. Their abolition by the Fianna Fáil government placed the burden of funding locally delivered services back on commercial rates payers and the exchequer. That is simply not sustainable.

Thirdly, it is international best practice that local services are administered by local authorities which funds those services. To ensure that local government continue to deliver services to the community, it is necessary to raise the funds directly. This will improve accountability, better align the cost of providing services, and help build a stronger relationship between local authorities and their communities.

These services are essential to your community. They include: Fire and emergency services; maintenance and cleaning of streets; planning and development; public parks; and street lighting. These facilities benefit everyone. That’s why the opposition to paying the household charge by a number of TDs is irresponsible. As legislators, those public representatives are asking people to break the law. And ultimately leading people down a path where they will end up having to pay fines and penalties.

The €100 charge applies to the majority of homeowners in the State and I understand it is a lot of money for many property owners. Those that do not own a residential property and whose housing needs are met through social housing options or the private rented market do not have to pay the charge. I have protected the most vulnerable in our society, including those in receipt of mortgage interest supplement and those who have had to vacate their property by reason of long-term mental or physical infirmity.

A huge effort is needed on behalf of everyone over the next few years to turn the country around. This will require a sustained approach to very strong leadership and reform.

We are making progress and Ireland will recover. This Government, with the people’s help, will make sure of it. I would like to thank everyone who has paid the household charge so far and I encourage those who haven’t yet paid to do so and to play their part in the protection of their local services and the wider recovery of our country.

* Phil Hogan is minister for the environment, community, and local government

‘Using courts as a weapon to force people to pay will fail’

CASE AGAINST CHARGE

Clare Daly

LAST Dec 16 last I was invited to write a head-to-head piece alongside Phil Hogan on what was at that stage the imminent household tax.

Apart from setting out the injustices of this charge and alternative ways of raising revenue to provide additional funding to expand and improve public services, I made some rather bold predictions about what the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes could achieve.

The history books remain to be written, but on the basis of what has taken place over the past three months we can say that a grassroots people’s campaign using extra-legal tactics, ie non- payment and non-registration, of this scale has not been seen since the time of Davitt’s Land League.

Being one of the nine TDs opposing the tax has given me a certain perspective on this, as I have spoken at dozens of meetings around the country and have got a real sense of the determination out there to fight this. Overall, tens of thousands of people have attended hundreds of meetings in practically every village, town, and suburban community in the State.

However, the public meetings are only where it starts. From those meetings thousands of ordinary people, low and middle income, unemployed and pensioners, have stepped forward, taken campaign newsletters and canvassed or leafleted their own street, estate or workplace. A mass dialogue with the aim of building non-payment has taken place and it seems to me that this process has largely escaped the national media. Or rather it may not have escaped the national media but some deliberate manipulation is at work.

At first we were promised “the surge”. The surge, however, never really came. It has been more of a gentle upward slope of registration as we approach the deadline. However, if you confined yourself to what you read in the national papers or heard or saw on radio and television over the last week, where Mr Hogan and people from the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) have been given a free reign to bully and issue threats, you would think that the massive levels of non- payment were due purely to maladministration. In other words, that the vast majority out there want to pay but can’t.

Journalists and broadcasters, who have failed to put it to the minister that the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes has successfully harnessed the strong mood of opposition against this tax, have done a real disservice to their profession.

Likewise, the manipulation of figures where the registration target for the Government has been reduced from 1.8m to 1.6m households and the percentage of compliance worked out from the latter.

This three-month phase leading up to the Mar 31 deadline is only the first skirmish in a potentially long campaign. It will be rounded off today with what I think will be another impressive show of people power, with the demonstration organised by the campaign at the Fine Gael ard fheis.

Such protests locally and nationally will continue, but will now be supplemented with a legal defence strategy to ensure that those people selected by the county and city managers for prosecution do not go to court alone but are surrounded by their neighbours and campaigners and get representation.

Like the anti-water charges campaign of the 1990s and the anti-poll tax campaign in Britain, the Government’s efforts to use the courts as a weapon to force payment out of the people will fail.

This is an economic struggle but it is also a political battle and as this campaign continues and the fully-fledged property tax and water taxes become visible on the horizon, our contention that this household tax is a gateway tax, leading us in the medium term to charges of €1,000- plus per household will be vindicated.

By sticking together we will force them to go back to the drawing board and get the money from somewhere else or face electoral meltdown. Let us not forget that the Government has already shed four TDs who felt the pressure of their local communities over various cuts.

There is a massive prize within the grasp of ordinary people in this country. Since the crisis began, the Government and its predecessor have got away with forcing austerity down our throats. It need not have been this way had the likes of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions acted in a fashion worthy of their founders.

However, ordinary folk have now built in quick time an organisation of their own, the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes, which, on the basis of its successes to date, is poised to strike a big blow against the austerity agenda which will not just be felt in Leinster House but also will not go unnoticed in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

* Clare Daly is a Socialist Party TD


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