‘It’s only €2 per week.’ Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, was speaking on RTE’s Six One News on Tuesday about the new Household Tax which the Fine Gael/Labour Party Government had agreed at Cabinet earlier in the day. Then in that interview of a few minutes he repeated four more times, ‘It’s only €2 a week.’ Had Hamlet been listening, he might have declared, ‘The Minister doth protest too much.’
Perhaps the Minister’s protests had to do with the fact that he admitted in many interviews, ‘I know it’s not fair, of course it’s not fair.’ This despite the Programme for Government promising an Ireland ‘that is built on fairness’ and standing for a ‘fair and equal society.’
The fact is that finding an extra €100 would be a trial for low paid workers, including those whose already miserable wage is being targeted for reduction by the Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton as he ‘reforms’ the legislation concerning workers in areas like hotels and catering. It would also be a trial for that generation with massive mortgages, and negative equity as well as workers coping with losing their jobs and surviving on welfare payments.’
Of course nobody believes that this tax is anything other than an introduction to much more onerous burdens in the not too distant future. As the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes, which is in the process of being launched, said in a statement, ‘If this Household Tax is accepted, everybody knows it would rocket to €500 and upwards within a short period. It would be a curtain raiser for further burdens such as water charges and a property tax on every home.’
We hadn’t long to wait to get an idea of just how heavy these burdens might be. Speaking on Tuesday afternoon to Matt Cooper on Today FM, John Fitzgerald research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute said, ‘When we get a property tax it’s likely to be much more onerous. €100 is relatively low.’ He then went on to agree that the estimated €160 million from the new tax was far too low. ‘I would be looking for €1 billion not €160 million.’
‘That would suggest that you are talking about an average of €700 or €800 per house?’ ventured the presenter of the Last Word. ‘Yeah.’ ‘And what about water charges on top of that again?’ ‘Water charges would probably be another €500.’ Mr Hogan wasn’t on the programme but if he was he might have chipped in, ‘Sure that’s only twelve times greater than what we are starting with, only €25 per week’!
The government plans a campaign of intimidation against householders to try and frighten them into paying the new tax. There is a suggestion that there will be a fine of €10 per month for non-payment and even a threat that imprisonment might feature further down the line. This is particularly disgraceful when we consider that the ordinary working people against whom these threats will be made are under huge economic pressure because of the greed, speculation and profiteering that crashed the economy while those responsible walk away shrugging their shoulders.
As well as attempting to play down the amount of the Household Tax, government ministers are attempting to hide behind the EU/IMF Memorandum which they say ‘obliges’ them to introduce this charge. Acting under orders has been a long utilised means of trying to escape responsibility, but someone should tell the government it doesn’t stand up in a criminal court. Neither should it be allowed to stand in the economic and political arena. Fine Gael and Labour have decided, as Fianna Fail and the Greens did before them, that our people should be extorted to pay for the bad debts of bankers and speculators and they will be held to account for this.
The government will face a massive campaign of resistance to its new tax. The call for a nationwide boycott campaign, mass non payment and resistance is receiving a huge echo. On the TV3 morning show on Wednesday morning a text poll was held asking people what they felt. A massive 87% said they would support a boycott with only 13% disagreeing. An Irish Examiner ‘Breaking News’ poll yesterday reported that, of 2,345 people who responded, 56% said they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay.
The fight against an equally unfair and regressive water charge was defeated in the 1990s because of huge opposition which saw tens of thousands of households refusing to pay. A highly effective campaign led mass resistance to intimidatory action by local authorities when they tried to disconnect water to boycotting households or drag thousands of people through the courts. In the end the establishment was forced to abolish the hated water charge in December 1996. People power won out.