Over ten thousand protestors have gathered outside the Fine Gael Ard Fheis [annual conference] this afternoon, with more still arriving.
The blinds at the new Convention Centre in central Dublin were ordered to be closed this afternoon, angering protestors and preventing the assembled media from observing the level of protest outside the window.
Fine Gael officials denied the move was intended to censor views of the protest against the new household charge, claiming instead that Gardai police had ordered the move in an effort to maintain calm outside.
There were reports of scuffles between protesters opposing the charge and delegates entering the conference today.
Tensions had escalated overnight after Fine Gael’s Minister for Justice Alan Shatter infuriated campaigners against the new flat tax by calling on them to “get a life”.
The deadline to pay the tax takes affect at midnight tonight. More than a million householders have refused to pay the 100 euro charge, which is set to increase in future years.
Speaking as he arrived at the conference centre last night, Minister Shatter warned: “If you don’t pay it, you can be brought before the courts and fined.”
He criticised Sinn Fein, United Left Alliance, Eirigi, and other groups who are opposing the hugely controversial charge.
“I think Sinn Fein and the promised protesters for tomorrow should just get a life,” he said, claiming that “a mountain had been made out of a molehill” on the issue.
Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams TD, speaking in Dublin today, criticised the government for its “disastrous” household charge as well as its handling of Ireland’s banking debts through a promissory note.
Deputy Adams said: “Justice minister, Alan Shatter is telling us to get a life. He is obviously in denial about the kind of life this government has imposed on the citizens struggling with austerity. Fine Gael and Labour are in denial about the social consequences of their government’s policies.”
“Phil Hogan’s disastrous household charge and the appalling mishandling of the promissory note are evidence of the incompetence of this government and the failure of Fine Gael policy to reverse the crisis in the economy and to create jobs and stimulate growth.
“The unemployed; the families whose loved ones have emigrated; the households in mortgage distress; those on hospitals trolleys and low and middle income households struggling to pay increasing bills and make ends meet, will not be celebrating the Fine Gael Ard Fheis,” he said.
Ruth Coppinger of the Campaign Against Household & Water Taxes (CAHWT) also condemned Minister Shatter, who she said had “no concept of real life” in Ireland.
“When you’re a multi-millionaire lawyer, Minister, landlord, investor and property owner like Mr Shatter, then 100 euro certainly is a molehill,” she said.
“However, for ordinary people in this country it is not.”