Environment

Clare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
As we are sitting here today and tomorrow debating this new legislation, we do so against the backdrop of the necessity for county councils around the country to set their budgets from funding that has been slashed in order to take account of this new tax on home owners. That is an absolute joke. The reason local authorities are being starved of funding is not that we have not paid our fair share of tax but rather that the Government chooses to use our taxes to pay unsecured bondholders and recapitalise banks, and refuses, patently, to ask the wealthy people at the top of society to pay their share so we can have the public services that we deserve and have paid for. Instead, it is choosing – this is a voluntary choice – to make ordinary people pay yet again. One of the messages we need to send out is that the people sitting at home can see this as an opportunity to say “Enough is enough.” We cannot consider this measure in isolation from all the austerity measures and budget cuts that have been implemented over the past while.

All Members have received some heartbreaking letters over the last few days. One of the letters I received was from a young couple, both of whom have lost their jobs. They bought a house just before the recession. They cannot afford to turn on the heating so they sit dressed in jumpers, they cannot afford to pay the refuse charges so the rubbish is piling up in the back garden, they have not been out for a drink in weeks and cannot afford to buy a pair of shoes or bring the dog to the veterinarian. Yet the young woman said: “I count myself lucky that I am not disabled, elderly or sick. I cannot even begin to imagine what life is like for these people and their families if this is what life is like for us.” Asking people to pay a €100 household tax on top of all the cuts and hardships they are already enduring is ridiculous, disgusting and shameful. I will not be part of it.

This is the opportunity many homeowners have sought to have their say against all the austerity that has been foisted on them over the past number of years. Unlike the universal social charge, the social welfare cuts and all the other measures which have taken money out of our pockets in the dead of night, this is something on which we have a choice. As Deputy Pringle said, thousands of people have attended meetings on this issue recently and have indicated their resolve to have their say against austerity by not paying this tax. Undoubtedly, there will be a massive campaign of civil disobedience which will make this charge uncollectible, as happened in the 1990s with the anti-water charges campaign.

I notice the Minister finds it difficult to listen to this debate, but he certainly will not find it difficult to listen to the people when they get organised on this issue. I will certainly not pay this tax, and I will not register for the tax. I will appeal to people in the community to take similar action. People realise and understand that this legislation has nothing to do with €100. The aim of the game is to open a new tier of local taxation that will see ordinary people facing bills of over €1,000 per household in the next two to three years. This tax being foisted on people’s shoulders when they currently cannot make ends meet is reprehensible.

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
Where did the Deputy get the figure of €1,000?

Clare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
The Minister’s analysts and the ESRI have said that.

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
The Deputy should not be making it up.

Clare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
We are on the record now so we will return to this in two years and see which one of us is right.

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
The Deputy should not be making it up.

Clare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
I know it will be me. This is part of a bigger agenda and anybody who doubts that need only look at the legislation before us and the penalties to be imposed on ordinary people for not registering and not paying in terms of late interest payments, class C fines, court appearances and so forth. It is really punitive legislation which is not being introduced just for this charge.

However, the Minister and the Government cannot bring everybody to court. There are 1.4 million households eligible for the charge and, at best, the Minister can bring about 5% to court. We will go into the courts and defend those people. The Judiciary is not exactly flavour of the month and the idea of its members imposing heavy sanctions on ordinary people, while not a single banker has ended up in jail, will not be tolerated. This Bill is a step too far. People have taken enough and the Minister will face an almighty battle on this issue should he not pull back from the brink.