Household tax revolt the price of years of austerity

Wed, Apr 4, 2012, 01:00

OPINION:Ordinary Irish people are being offered permanent austerity while the top 300 have increased their wealth by €12 billion, writes RUTH COPPINGER

THE CAMPAIGN against the household tax is the most significant grassroots movement in this country in decades. Not since the tax marches of 1979 has there been such a popular tax revolt.

For any serious commentator this isn’t simply about €100. It is Ireland’s response to four years of austerity, a policy that has brought no sign of economic recovery.

Some 14 months ago this Government romped to power. Now anything from 500,000 to one million householders are willing to defy a tax it imposes despite both crude and subtle intimidation.

Last year the bondholders were to be challenged, Anglo shut and a new course forged. In power, however, the knee was bent and private bank debts continued to be paid from the public purse. These are the issues dominating the numerous anti-household tax meetings up and down the country.

The Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes has been built with lightning speed. The nine TDs publicly backing non-registration fronted meetings organised in every county in January and February to establish groups. Attendances confirmed a serious change in the public mood: in Waterford city 700 people, Cork 500, Limerick 500, Carlow 400. In Wexford, Clonmel, Athlone, Donegal and many more places over 300 people regularly showed up.

What people realise is that this charge will rise from €100 to €1,000 very quickly and we should boycott it from the beginning.

Widespread awareness exists that a database is being established to levy a new tier of household taxes: property tax next year and water charges the following.

Figures from the Commission on Taxation, the Economic and Social Research Institute and other sources point to an average €500 to €600 property tax on a modest home and €200-€400 for water charges.

Tens of thousands are living in negative equity, not in properties that bring them any benefit whatsoever. This cohort could be provoked to revolt with the introduction of a so-called property tax, which will simply be a home tax hitting low and middle incomes. Nobody is talking about taxing the property of the superwealthy.

If the Government faces this struggle to get €100, how will it get €500 or more?

The arrogance and bullying by Government has further incensed. Credit union surveys highlight how increasing numbers of families have only €70 a month left after bills.

A Central Statistics Office survey shows how even professionals such as teachers, gardaí, accountants and technicians have seen incomes plummet by €17,000 per annum.

Yet multimillionaire Minister Shatter tells people to get a life, while Minister Hogan invokes patriotism.

This is the first chance in years people have had to make a statement on the bailouts and austerity. The universal social charge, PRSI etc were deducted at source with no serious trade union response. People have seen their hospitals downgraded and teachers taken from their schools. Responsibility for the crisis is heaped on to the shoulders of the many, not the few who caused it. Capitalism is meant to make the venturer pay his own losses, but the opposite is the case.

Despite Government attempts to manipulate figures the number of properties that must register is at least 1.81 million.

Census 2011 confirms 1,994,845 dwellings in the State; 18,638 are unsold and thus exempt, as are 143,000 council or voluntary housing tenants. Waivers apply to 53,000 in listed unfinished estates or receiving mortgage interest supplement, though these also must register, alongside the other 1,755,685 liable properties.

Therefore over a million households boycotted registration on the weekend of March 31st. Even if this figure rises, it is clear no government can impose a tax in the long term with which 40-50 per cent don’t subscribe.

Registration is only the first battle. Inevitably, court summonses will issue. But, in a desperate bid to get the EU fiscal treaty passed, the Government will probably back off for a few months. The campaign has vowed nobody will go to court alone. Cases will be made arenas for political protest.

The Labour Party conference in Galway is the next focal point for a campaign protest on April 14th, to follow on the 10,000-plus march at the Fine Gael Ardfheis last weekend. May Day will also be a time for protesting at the austerity tax. Consolidating and strengthening the local groups in April, May, June will be the priority to fight the next phase of the campaign.

What is happening over the household tax is hugely significant. The madness of austerity is being exposed. The top 300 Irish increased their wealth in the teeth of the recession from 2009 to 2011 by €12 billion. Ordinary people are being instead offered permanent austerity and tax hikes. This will not be acceptable and it will be fought.

Ruth Coppinger is a United Left Alliance councillor and member of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes

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