The very parties like Sinn Féin and Solidarity who bemoan and decry the lack of action in relation to homelessness led the charge at council level to cut the budgets to deal with that very crisis.
The duplicity was staggering.
“It is illogical and is always the low point of this council calendar every year,” a vexed Duncan Smith said last Monday night.
Smith, a Labour councillor on Fingal County Council, was speaking during the annual debate on the local property tax (LPT), where he and his colleagues would decide how much the rate would be for next year.
Like the other three Dublin councils, Fingal had previously decided to cut the property tax by the maximum 15% permitted by law.
Reducing it by that amount meant residents’ property tax bills were reduced, but it also meant less discretionary money by the councils for essential services. In Fingal’s case the difference was in excess of €2m.
Fingal, last year, broke ranks with the other Dublin councils and decided to only reduce the LPT by 10%.
This year, the council executive strongly urged council members to stick with the 10% and not consider reverting back to the 15% cut. While it probably would have much preferred no cut at all, the officials probably knew that was not feasible.
As I was out in Fingal for the meeting, what was fascinating was the very parties advocating for the full 15% cut did not include the right-wing Fine Gael, as you would have expected.
Right wingers always want lower taxes and often call for cuts in services to make such cuts happen.
No, the parties calling for the full 15% cut were Sinn Féin and Solidarity, the very same parties on a national level who cry foul about our housing crisis.
The same parties who have tabled motions of no confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy to be debated in the Dáil shortly.
“The same parties [who are advocating the 15% cut] are the one who will jump up or roll around on the floor at every committee demanding extra services. We need to have a mature debate on one of the two reserve functions we still have as councillors. But 10% is still a cut,” Cllr Smith said.
Independent councillor Justin Sinnott struck a similarly frustrated tone.
“It feels like Groundhog Day. I think we need to be a bit more grown up about this. We need a list of projects that will be funded if the rate is kept and a list of projects that will be axed if the rate is moved to 15%. If the rate is reduced by 15% then there will be consequences and we need to be mature about it,” he said.
Council official Oliver Hunt, on behalf of the executive, set out the position against the deeper cut.
He said a number of pressures on the council’s finances would be affected by the deeper cut in the LPT rates, setting out that cuts to services would have to be implemented should they go ahead.
These pressures included dealing with plugging a hole relating to Irish Water, dealing with the restoration of pay rates cut during the crash and homelessness.
Paul Reid, Fingal’s chief executive officer, informed councillors that many other local authorities including nearby Meath were being urged to actually increase the LPT rate by 15% as opposed to cutting it at all.
Mandated to bring in a balanced budget come November, Reid said starkly that, should councillors decide to cut by 15%, homelessness budgets among other services would have to be cut, but stressed that is a direction he would not like to consider.
Despite this, the calls from the left-wing defenders of our most vulnerable, supposedly, were the ones advocating the tax cut.
Cllr Malachy Quinn of Sinn Fein said he and his colleagues were opposed to the austerity tax and that struggling families needed a break.
“The LPT is punitive and is Dublin biased. I agree with giving the ordinary joe a break and that is why we in Sinn Féin are proposing a motion to reduce by the maximum 15%,” he said.
His colleague Paul Donnelly chipped in saying, in relation to homelessness, that: “We didn’t cause this crisis and we in this council have been the most proactive in addressing it.
“We didn’t cause this so why should we have to pay more. The State are the ones who caused this and the ones who should pay for this through general taxation.”
Matthew Waine, of Solidarity, weighed in. “What we don’t hear is how ordinary taxpayers are scrimping and saving every month. This is a regressive tax, it is not going after those who have benefited most from the boom and the recovery. The reality is the pressure to pay rent, to pay mortgages to the cost of living has increased. That is the basis to the opposition to the property tax,” he said.
In the end, the illogical left were defeated amid some surprise when Fianna Fáil councillors, who had previously backed the 15% cut performed a U-turn and backed the 10% cut instead.
The illogical left were exposed less than two hours later at the same meeting when Mr Reid, as CEO, gave his response to a controversial letter from Mr Murphy last week, threatening to remove powers from them if they don’t deal with their homelessness issue.
Councillors from all sides rallied behind Reid’s rebuke of Murphy saying their record on homelessness was exemplary.
But here was the kicker.
The very people who attacked Murphy for failing to act to deal with the crisis, decided to prioritise tax cuts over raising more money to tackle the crisis in their area.
They decided that even though 100 families in Fingal are in hotels and other emergency accommodation, they felt cutting the tax was more important.
But it was not just in Fingal.
On Thursday night, on the Sinn Féin controlled Dublin City Council, councillors agreed to a Sinn Féin motion to implement the 15% maximum cut, thereby reducing the council’s budget to deal with the housing crisis.
So chuffed were Sinn Fein, President Mary Lou McDonald tweeted about it.
Surely, at a time of emergency you deploy all your resources until the emergency is over.
Any party which advocated cutting taxes when nearly 10,000 people, mainly in the Dublin area, are officially homeless, really has no leg to stand on when it comes to being moral guardians.
Just remember on Tuesday September 25, when Mary Lou, Eoin Ó Broin and the rest of Sinn Féin arise in the Dáil and remonstrate about the housing crisis, when their own people were given a chance to do something about it, they chose not to.