With increased expenses such as the household tax, septic tank charges and the growing likeliness of fracking in Ireland, more and more ordinary people are joining the left against the government. Pádraig McCarrick looks at why this time, things could be different.
“It is morally wrong, unjust and unfair to tax a persons home”.
An interesting quote that’s been surfacing online and on radio the last few weeks is not belonging to one of the usual political firebrands like Joe Higgins, but attributed to none other than Enda Kenny, speaking in 1994, when Fine Gael were opposing a Fianna Fail/Labour coalition attempt to introduce a property tax. Many of the arguments against the charge in ’94 still valid today: anti-home ownership, double-taxation etc were all part of a Fine Gael Leaflet condemning the coalitions plans. So what’s changed?
I know many supporters of Fine Gael have countered with the arguments of “times have changed” and “those were the boom times”, but does this really make such a charge any less valid or less cruel? If anything, the charge is one of the many FG turnarounds of the last year and it seems that finally people have had enough.
While the final days of Fianna Fáil had one of the most hostile electorates in recent memory, those who organised and protested in 2010 were often those who had been protesting against Fianna Fáil for a long time. The campaign against the Household Charge seems to be one of those issues that has seen many ordinary people joining en masse with seasoned political agitators. Local meetings around many towns in Ireland have been met with large crowds. In Castlebar, the de facto heartland of Fine Gael attracted over 140 people. In Celbridge last week, between 60-70 people showed up at an organising meeting while a meeting schedule for Maynooth on Wednesday is expected to reach a similar crowd. To sum up the feeling felt by many, one Castlebar home owner said “I’m an old age pensioner and I’m prepared to go to jail if I have to, but I’m not paying this tax”.
In addition, many who have attended these meeting have signed up to the campaign and there is a willingness to participate that has not been seen in a long time. In addition, the legislation that will require owners of septic tanks to pay in order to register it for inspection has attracted the ire of many rural home owners. The fear held by many is that if these septic tanks fail to meet the required standard they will be required to pay up to €15,000 without any support from the Government. Even Fianna Fáil have come out against the charge with a very heated discussion in the Dáil resulted in Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris being evicted from the chamber.
While cuts to services is one thing, the introduction of new charges and the increase in many existing ones is causing increased desperation among parents. During the week, Education Minister Ruairí Quinn hinted at more hikes in the registration fee that is expected to reach €3,000 by 2015. While before Christmas, USI along with FEE and Maynooth SU engaged in a number of occupations with varying levels of success, the new year so far has been relatively quiet. The usual grumbling of ineffective student leadership has already begun with many claiming for a more collective and unified student voice.
Environmentally, the movement against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of gas reserves found in Ireland is gathering increased media attention. Fracking, which has not yet begun in Ireland has caused irreversible damage in the United States causing water pollution as well as severe health risks to those living in the areas where fracking is taking place. A protest against fracking in Co. Fermanagh attracted about 100 people in Enniskillen yesterday. On the Tweet Machine yesterday, Young Fine Gael tweeted “UCD YFG: YFG approves of the process of fracking as can it can prove a viable energy source in Ireland for the foreseeable future”. The damage to the Irish BMW region, where the majority of these underground gas reserves are located has been met with much anger by locals who would see their surrounding countryside destroyed. There is a large possibility that many rural politicians could rebel against Leinster House on the issue with many County Councils such as Clare, Sligo, Donegal, Roscommon and Leitrim passing motions aimed at banning fracking in their counties.
This banning by county councils is limited however. In Leitrim, a moratorium is in place which is much weaker than an outright ban. In Sligo and Roscommon, no outright ban has been put in place as of yet. Clare have a ban written in their development plan, which if approved by Bord Pleanala will stop fracking in Clare in its tracks.
It will be interesting though, if in the interest of ‘providing a viable energy source’ as YFG have said, will these local votes be overturned by the Government. It is here that a sustained protest by those living in these areas will take place. It is very possible to defeat such disastrous attacks on Irish households by uniting behind such causes that go outside the usual political circle. For students, this shows that a united voice that is willing to take a principled stand against austerity have a very good chance of reversing the anti-people policies both financially and environmentally.
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