A decision to order the blinds at the National Convention Centre to be pulled down as over ten thousand angry citizens descended on Fine Gael’s annual conference last weekend has become a metaphor for the coalition government’s attitude to the Irish people.
As crowds rallied in central Dublin to protest the government’s austerity programme and the unjustness of the new Household Charge, Fine Gael delegates condemned the protestors as “unpatriotic” -- while the windows were ordered to be blacked out to prevent the media from seeing the crowds.
Amongst the thousands of protesters were hundreds holding banners and posters reflecting support for Sinn Fein, eirigi, Republican Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
Fine Gael’s back-slapping conference was ironically held inside one of Dublin’s new monuments to the economic collapse, a giant construction of glass and metal built by one of Ireland’s well connected developers -- who now owes at least a billion euro to the state.
The Household Charge has been vehemently opposed by republican, socialist and community groups across the island because it has been imposed on all home owners, regardless of their means or the value of their properties. It has become emblematic of the government’s approach to the economic crisis, which has been to target the least well-off for the greatest cuts and taxes.
Despite the giant protest, Fine Gael ministers launched a new offensive on the charge on Monday, insisting there would be no toleration of late-payers and declaring that those communities which did not pay up would suffer from reduced local services.
It was also announced that a man who led a walk from Donegal to Dublin in a separate protest at austerity measures would have his social welfare benefit cut as a result.
Despite the threats, almost half of Irish homeowners have still refused to pay the charge in an unprecedented act of civil disobedience.
The issue topped the agenda at a meeting of the government on Tuesday, when Ministers tried to piece together where things went wrong.
The Cabinet discussion took place in the absence of Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, whose handling of the charge has been the subject of intense criticism. His decision to travel to Brussels rather than deal with the household charge issue was seen as a result of increasing tensions within the coalition government.
Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said the attempt to impose the charge had been “a huge failure” for the government.
“We are talking about more than 50 per cent of the population who are in outright revolt, and they are putting that into effect.”
Mr Higgins said he expected a number of people who had already paid the tax would later join the opposition campaign. “Many of those who registered felt coerced, felt fearful and afraid. Many of them at a later stage will join the campaign against this tax.”
There would be “massive solidarity” with anyone the government pursued for non-payment, he added.
Speaking at last weekend’s protest, eirigi’s Louise Minihan said that it had been clear for months that the campaign Against household and water taxes had been developing into something “far bigger than any campaign of recent years”.
“At literally hundreds of meetings across the state the defiant mood of the people has been obvious,” she said.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said both Fine Gael and Labour were “in denial” about the social consequences of their government’s policies.
He repeated his call for the government to scrap the charge, describing it as “a disaster for this government from start to finish”. He said the charge should be repealed and a wealth tax on earnings above a hundred thousand euro put in its place.