Dublin Corporation in Estimates crisis
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
The vote on the Dublin Corporation Book of Estimates, held up because of most councillors' reluctance to introduce waste charges, was to be taken on Monday, 11 December, and all last week the group leaders were haggling away with the mayor and the city manager. But by Monday's meeting there was still no consensus and the Estimates weren't passed.
The crisis arises because the Estimates have to be voted through by this Sunday, 17 December. After that date, Minister Noel Dempsey has the option, under the law, to close down the council and let the manager carry on in its place.
In an attempt to resolve the situation, the councillors have invited the minister and Bertie Ahern to meet with them.
At Sinn Fein's insistence, the councillors have presented an alternative package to raise the £13.5 million required. The leader of the Sinn Féin group, Councillor Christie Burke, suggested that B&Bs should come into the rates net; that there should be a hotel bed tax; and that legislation should be urgently introduced to bring landlords into the rates ambit.
``Landlords have made an exorbitant amount of money by exploiting the scarcity of housing, and yet they don't pay rates,'' he said. ``They can write off their mortgage payments against their income tax and often find they don't need to declare their rental incomes at all. It is totally unjust.''
The proposed package also suggests that rates should be levied on Government buildings, of which there are a large number in Dublin's inner city.
Sinn Féin opposes waste charges as an unjust form of double taxation.
Dublin Corporation will meet again on Friday and rumour has it that management might use the refusal of the councillors to adopt waste charges as a backdoor method to privatise waste collection, just as Drogheda Corporation did over the Christmas period last year, when the Corpo bin men came back to find they had no jobs, but Wheelie bins of Dundalk had leafleted all the doors suggesting people pay them £90 if they wanted to have their trash collected.
There is an ongoing campaign in Drogheda where the people are refusing to pay for collections. Groups of residents follow the bin men around and when a bag of rubbish is left behind because it does not have the requisite tag, a proof of payment, the residents then throw it up on the lorry.
The Corporation got fed up with this and the city engineer and gardaí prosecuted one of these campaigners under the 1982 Litter Act. Allegedly he was littering, in throwing the bag up. The logic of the prosecution was not clear. Nor, it must be said, was the law. The resident was charged under the 1982 Act, only to discover that this law had been repealed by the 1997 Litter Act, and so the case was thrown out. Sinn Fein's Ken Ó hÉiligh, spokesperson for the Drogheda Residents against Bin Charges and Privatisation, points out that what happened last year in Drogheda, which has led to an ongoing dispute between councillors and people, may yet happen in Dublin.
In Dublin, the rumour that the manager may try to privatise waste collection is disingenuous, because the Corporation's waste management plans already involve privatisation. The pilot project (``A Better Way for Waste'') which Dublin Councillors accepted in the summer, was that the same company (Wheelie Bins of Dundalk, under the new name Oxigen) would be collecting and dealing with the waste that Dublin City householders were to start separating at source: papers and cans.
It was already evident from the plan that privatisation was on the way. Bit by bit, as ``A Better Way'' hit the streets, more and more rubbish would be separated out and collected by a private company. There would be none left for the Corpo refuse collectors at the end of the day.
Councillors met with the collectors' union representatives this week, where Sinn Féin councillors underlined their strong opposition to privatisation. Sinn Féin councillor Nicky Kehoe offered the full support of Sinn Féin in opposing the privatisation of bin collection.
The burning issue, as the crisis goes to the wire this weekend, is whether Minister Dempsey will close down the council. In a letter to council managers last year, Dempsey declared that ``the ongoing major programme for the renewal of local government is centred on the restoration of real decision-making and power to local authorities and to local people.'' The very suggestion of a threat to close down the council makes this declared aspiration look a bit thin.