Buncrana’s Joe Murphy said this week’s claims Donegal will lose out massively on services if the government goes ahead with its threat to cut 4m. euro from the County Council’s budget is ‘the latest attempt’ to blackmail the people here to pay the household charges.
Mr. Murphy was also less than complimentary about Minister for the Environment and Local Government Phil Hogan’s attempt to avoid a crowd staging a protest in Glenties on Wednesday stating, “he went in the door the Highlands Hotel uses for taking in and out the rubbish.... need I say more?”
Speaking with the ‘Journal’ yesterday Mr. Murphy, sticking with the rubbish metaphor, said the government should do us all a favour and dump the household charges in the bin.
The leading anti-austerity activist commented: “I know you won’t use this but the response we are getting outside Post Offices every Friday when we bring our campaign on to the streets is very simple - people are saying they won’t pay ‘those f..... charges’. That’s the straightforward language we are hearing from ordinary, decent people.
“More than half of the households in Donegal have not paid and the reason they haven’t paid is that this government keeps taxing us more and more while giving us less and less. This is an unfair tax. Give us fair government and they’ll get a fair response.”
He was also adamant that the cuts in service would have come about anyway.
“These cuts are not about the household charge; this is just to punish us for standing up for our rights. We were never going to be better off at any stage anyway. I would contend they were planning the cuts but non payment of the household charge is a convenient smokescreen for them to justify what they always intended to do.”
And he added that people should not be lulled into thinking the worst was over: “Politicians I have talked to in the government parties say it’s a 100 euro this year but they are talking anywhere between 300 and 1,500 euro in the years ahead. People haven’t got this kind of money, and many people I have talked to are really scared.
“We have had levies, household charges, job losses, pay cuts, part time working, emigration and unemployment. Now they are looking for more from the people who have paid the most. The arrogance from ministers in the midst of all this is breath-taking. They strut around like we should be thanking them for doing this to us..”
On Wednesday the Minister was met by a relatively small but vocal protest group when he arrived to address a session of the McGill Summer School and when it became clear he was going to use a side entrance to the Highlands Hotel, the protesters ran to confront him.
What followed was a bit of rough and tumble, as around 20 protesters charged a garda barrier between them and the Minister. However, there were no arrests and no violence.
Meeting the press before giving his address, Minister Hogan pledged to deliver “radical reform” of local government. He would not be drawn on the specifics of which local authorities are set to be abolished but simply said: “The number of local authorities is too many: the number will be reduced and the number of councillors will be reduced.”
He said that he had no problem with peaceful protests but warned that the household charges are “the law of the land” and that “they must comply”.
Challenged as to why he had not used the front entrance to the hotel, he responded: “I will choose which door I use.”
When asked what he would say to the 52% of Donegal householders who are liable but have not yet paid the household charge, he warned: “Those not paying will be responsible for cuts in services if they don’t pay between now and the end of the year.”
In his address he said much reform had been mooted over the last decade, but very little actually implemented, and the time had come for action.
He promised to deliver “the most radical changes ever undertaken” in reforming local government this September, through a programme called ‘Putting People First’.
The programme will “introduce significant changes to regional, county, city and town governance” by ensuring that, wherever possible, local services are delivered through locally based bodies rather than central agencies.