Over a million households have boycotted the 100 euro household charge in an extraordinary act of public defiance against an austerity flat tax imposed by the Dublin government.
Amid disagreements and confusion within the coalition government over how the charge should be collected, thousands have rallied in protest at the unjustness of a charge which has been compared with Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax.
The National Stadium in Dublin was packed to capacity last weekend as the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes held a major rally ahead of the March 31 deadline. A major rally is also being organised for this Saturday, outside Fine Gael’s annual conference at Dublin’s Convention Centre.
The government has so far insisted there will be no extension of the payment deadline, which has been ignored by almost two-thirds of householders. The charge is being demanded equally from all homes in the 26 Counties regardless of means, and with only a very small number of waivers.
A group of nine TDs that has led the campaign against the tax said yesterday that taxpayers had “clearly rejected” further impositions. Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins Higgins said the Coalition had encountered a massive and unprecedented boycott which extended from Donegal to Wexford, from Kerry to Dundalk.
Mr Higgins said the Mahon tribunal report on political corruption had enormously strengthened the boycott of the “regressive” household tax. He asked whether the government understood “that a fully fledged revolt of people power is under way”.
In excess of three thousand people descended on the National Stadium in south Dublin last weekend in protest against the measure. A near carnival-like atmosphere saw rounds of applause greeting new arrivals, particularly when several hundred protesters from the surrounding communities marched up the South Circular Road.
“The sense and power of mutual reinforcement was palpable,” said one republican who attended the rally. “Here were thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder to tell the Dublin government that their home tax was dead in the water.”
The Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, has warned of penalties and fines if the charge is not paid. Various government sources have suggested that the tax might ultimately be forcibly collected through electricity bills, wage deductions, or even through direct house visits by government ‘heavies’.
Although the charge is ostensibly intended to fund local public services, it has been linked from the outset to the banking collapse. This week’s payment deadline is the same as the due date of an annual 3.1bn promissory note agreed, in highly controversial circumstances, by the previous government in order to repay the debts of the fraudulent Anglo Irish Bank.
A last-minute decision by the current government to (indirectly) postpone payment of the Anglo promissory note has been credited to the campaign for the non-payment of the Household Charge.
And comments from a Fine Gael senator attacking a radio broadcaster has highlighted increasing government desperation on the issue. Senator Michael Mullen condemned as “irresponsible” Today FM broadcaster Ray D’Arcy for suggesting that those who are refusing to pay the charge should give the money to charity.
The deadline for the new flat tax also comes in the same week as new statistics reveal that the gap between the richest and poorest in the 26 County state is at its highest ever. The inequality ratio -- the gap between the top 20 per cent of earners and the lowest 20 per cent -- grew by more than 25 per cent in 2010 alone and is now the highest figure on record -- even as the economy was contracting at the height of the recession, the top ten per cent of earners saw their annual income increase by eight per cent annually.
Speaking at last week’s rally, éirígí Councillor Louise Minihan said the message coming from across the state was “crystal clear”.
“The Dublin government have a real fight on their hands, a fight with hundreds of thousands of their own citizens,” she said.
“On the very deadline for payment of the home tax Fine Gael will hold their Ard Fheis [annual conference] in the National Conference Centre. We have to make sure that the delegates are greeted with thousands of protesters opposing not only the home tax but the entire austerity programme.”
She appealed to republicans from across the country to join in this Saturday, 31st March.
“As republicans we are far too used to the feeling of isolation and defeat. For the first time in many years a progressive campaign is within touching distance of inflicting a huge blow against the right wing agenda. Republicans need to play their part in making sure that that victory is achieved.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has said that it intends to introduce a bill in the Dublin parliament that will attempt to reverse the charge.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said it was clear, in the days before the deadline, that most citizens had rejected the financial and legal threats and the government’s “moral blackmail”.
He urged abandonment of the charge and introduction of a 100,000 euro cap on public sector wages. This would raise 265 million euro -- 100 million euro more than was envisaged to accrue from the charge, he said.
“Government representatives need to take their heads out of the clouds and face facts. No one is to blame for the government’s mess except the government itself,” said Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane.
“Many people are not in a position to pay, and many others are using this as an opportunity to send a message to the government. The people’s verdict on the household charge is clear; they will not accept regressive taxes.”