By MARIE O’HALLORAN and MICHAEL O’REGAN
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has staunchly defended the €100 household charge to be introduced in January, arguing that the money being raised was vital to fund public services.
The charge, which amounted to just €2 per week for eligible households, would help pay for “fire services and libraries and street cleaning”, he said. “These things are all funded by the exchequer up until now and it’s necessary that citizens understand that they can make a contribution of €2 per week.”
Minister for Environment Phil Hogan, who introduced the legislation, warned last night that those who did not pay the charge would be pursued, and face a possible penalty of up to €2,500.
Mr Kenny said the €160 million expected income was based on the number of properties. He noted there were waivers including for those on mortgage interest supplement, on housing supports or rent supplement, and those in certain unfinished housing estates. The charge will come into effect in January.
However, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins criticised the charge, claiming it was common knowledge that it will “grow quickly to €1,000” under pressure from the EU and IMF.
“This will be met with a massive campaign of opposition from Donegal to Wexford, from Kerry right back to Dublin,” Mr Higgins said. “Your disgraceful campaign of intimidation that is starting already, threatening householders with €2,500 in fines for non-registration, will be resisted.”
Dublin North Socialist Party TD Clare Daly and Donegal South West Independent Thomas Pringle have already declared they will not pay the charge and will not register for it.
Ms Daly, who was jailed in 2003 over the anti-bin tax campaign, told the Dáil last night she would not pay the charge. Ms Daly was speaking during the Dáil debate on the Local Government (Household Charge) Bill last night, which brings the annual fee into effect.
Ms Daly said the Government’s game was to “open up a new tier of local taxation which will see ordinary people facing bills in the next two to three years of more than €1,000 plus per household”. She said it was “reprehensible” to try and introduce it. The penalties “being imposed on ordinary people for not registering and not paying” were “really punitive”.
Mr Pringle is also refusing to pay the household charge and has called on other TDs to follow his lead. He described it as a tax too far and revealed the vast majority of people in his constituency of Donegal have claimed they will not pay what they have described as the unfair charge.
“This is an opportunity for the Irish people to have their say,” Mr Pringle told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “I think it’s a legitimate form of protest for people to exercise their right not to register for this tax.”
During the Dáil debate last night, Dublin South Central Independent TD Joan Collins said it was a tax too far on people’s income. She described the measure as the “Trojan horse”.
Ms Collins believed it was the first step in the privatisation of water services and the compilation of a register of charges. A national campaign encouraging non-payment was under way and the Government knew this, which was why it was introducing such high fines and penalties, she claimed.
Earlier in the debate chairman of the Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness described as “absolutely ridiculous” a €10 transaction fee for people who pay the charge in cash. Mr Hogan said the €10 charge was because cash transactions were “resource heavy” for local authorities.