Refuse charges foisted on Dubliners
Labour defectors swing the decision
Three Labour Party members of Dublin City Council broke their party whip last Friday evening and ensured that residents in the capital now face refuse charges and the increased threat of an incinerator to pollute the metropolis.
Twenty five Dublin City councillors voted for waste charges. Because the three Labour councillors defected from their group's decision to oppose the charges, there were only 22 votes against.
Before the vote was taken, Sinn Féin's Larry O'Toole spoke. ``I congratulate the committee which has sat at all hours of the day and night to resolve this issue - all under a threat from Minister Noel Dempsey to abolish this council. The waste charge is not only double taxation, to which Sinn Féin is totally opposed, but an attempt to hide behind a non-existent waste plan.''
``You'', he said, pointing at the Fianna Fáil and Green Party councillors who had proposed and seconded the motion to accept the waste charges. ``You are the people with the minister's ear, who would not resist a bully boy's threats, so that he can get to build a poisonous incinerator in this city that nobody wants. Take this message back to him; he is in for a battle. If he dissolves this council and does away with local democracy, he will not get away with it. If he should try to take away this arena, then we will take it to a different one.''
Following the vote, the Council no longer faces abolition but remains to do as the minister bids. Dubliners will pay £95, or £65 if they haven't room for a big wheelie bin, or nothing if they can prove hardship. Hardship is somewhere below the Welfare payment, which is the government's present definition of what you need to live.
Councillors had proposed alternative sources of funds, for example taxing Bed and Breakfasts and landlords who pay no rates, or by bringing the government buildings in the centre of the city into the rates bracket.
``Did the Corporation management, all employees of Environment and Local Government Minister Noel Dempsey, even consider these proposals from the councillors?'' asks Nicky Kehoe, ``or is their policy just to ignore us and the people we represent.
``There is £2.5 billion in windfall gains in tax revenues washing around the government offices. Why was it necessary to tax the people of Dublin at all? The charge is not proportional to income. It's across the board. It's a poll tax, like Mrs. Thatcher's poll tax, the final straw that brought her government down.
``One thing is certain; the waste charge won't stay at the rate set this year. After all, there will be an incinerator to pay for, and if it's waste charges today, it will be water charges tomorrow. The EU has already directed member state governments to introduce water charges.''
There are now 40 authorities, all with different charges and plans, in different parts of the 26 Counties. ``It is grossly unfair that one area pays half what another area has to pay,'' says Larry O'Toole.
swering claims that refuse charges were at least preferable to privatisation, Nicky Kehoe replied. ``These unsolicited, expensive wheelie bins are coming in through Oxigen, (otherwise, Wheelie Bins of Dundalk,) and this company is not giving the bins out for free, nor are they taking on the job of collecting the rubbish in these bins for nothing. It's just that local government has assumed the role of the middleman minding the till, and acting as the enforcer.''
That's where the councillors left it, and where they left democracy behind. And as it is left to the people to take the battle against waste and service charges to the streets, these councillors may themselves be left behind too.