Labour’s shame at privatisation of bin service

Since the privatisation of the household bin collection system within the functional area of Dublin City Council kicked in last month, it has been one shambolic controversy after another. The threat this week by Greyhound Waste, which was handed the service by Dublin City Council, that it would not collect the bins of up to 18,000 householders who had not paid a fee in full and upfront is but the latest issue to emerge.

Yesterday Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore was not pleased at the charge in the Dail that he personally carried a heavy responsibility for the privatisation of the city waste management system. This arises because the Labour Party currently has the position of Lord Mayor of Dublin, has nineteen out of fifty two councillors – the biggest group – and with their Finer Gael government partners have a huge majority on the Council. Labour therefore has to take full political responsibility for the current debacle.

Mr Gilmore attempted to divert attention by a sharp attack on those who had campaigned against the imposition of new stealth taxes in the form of bin charges in Dublin in 2003. According to him it was this that led to the privatisation of the service in Dublin nine years later.

Unfortunately for the Tanaiste, he had forgotten that, in 2003, as Labour’s Environment spokesperson he opposed a change in the law introduced by the Fianna Fail Minister of the Environment ,giving Councils the power not to collect refuse from households that were refusing to pay a newly imposed charge in Dublin city and county.

In a statement Mr Gilmore said, ‘By further introducing a measure which will make it legal for Local Authorities to refuse collections to households which have not paid, Minister Cullen is introducing a compulsory bin tax . . . the Labour Party will oppose this new compulsory bin tax. We are opposed to back door taxation.’ If the campaign which was calling for opposition to these new stealth taxes was responsible for the recent privatisation, then the Labour Party would have been equally responsible because it also opposed.

In fact, the very first step in the privatisation process of public services is the imposition of a charging regime. Moving away from the provision of water and refuse collection as services funded from general taxation and putting in place mechanisms treating these services as commodities, is the first step along the road of handing them over to privateers. This was categorically shown in the area of waste collection generally in the State.

When the controversy erupted in Dublin in the Autumn of 2003, the big majority of local authorities had already privatised their waste collection services, having had charging regimes in place since 1983. In a similar fashion now, the creation of a new national water company and the attempt to install meters in every household is a preparation for future attempts to privatise this vital service. Multinational water companies wait impatiently for their opportunity to get their hands on our water provision system backed up by the European Union Commission.

The labour Leader’s verbal opposition to charges for public services can be traced back a long way. In Dun Laoghaire in the 1980s before making it to the Dail, the then Councillor Gilmore of the Workers’ Party claimed in a leaflet that, ‘He was the first Councillor in the country to propose and win the abolition of the water rates.’ In a new incarnation called Democratic Left in the early 1990’s, Eamon Gilmore boldly proclaimed in another communication to constituents, ‘The PAYE taxpayer whom we represent, has already paid enough tax for local services, and should not have to pay again.’

I suppose one should not be surprised that both Mr Gilmore and his colleagues on the Labour backbenches are deeply uncomfortable and embarrassed when confronted in the Dail with these stated policy positions from previous periods. It isn’t that one should never change one’s mind. It is the sheer dishonesty of the establishment political parties which, in opposition, take strong stands on issues which will garner them support and then in government without explanation adopt a diametrically opposite stance, treating the people who had believed them with cynical contempt.

Greyhound Waste have devised a legal structure registered in the Isle of Man which means it does not have to publish its yearly profits. It was stated in the Dail that it was given the Dublin City contract ‘in a non competitive tender situation when it was well known that it had to pay in excess of €1 million to another State owned company for overcharging.’ Hardly surprising then that controversy would ensue and for that the Labour Party and Fine Gael must take full responsibility.

This debacle should result in massive opposition to the plans for major privatisation of State enterprises on the orders of the Troika.