I regularly update this blog with reflections on current events, issues I’m dealing with in the parliament or important trips I make. I welcome feedback, and encourage you to comment on the blog posts.
Today Revenue have announced a fresh deadline of six weeks for people to clear property tax and household tax arrears. Almost two years after the deadline for the payment of the household tax which preceded the property tax, Revenue say that some 460,000 households of about a quarter have maintained a boycott. What a testament to the depth of opposition to this austerity tax among people.
It was because of this scale of organised opposition the government went down the route of having money taken directly off people with the property tax. This fresh pursuit of the outstanding household and property taxes over the next six weeks and beyond will further enrage people who are already bristling with anger over the scandals surrounding the start up of Irish Water. The government speaks with a forked tongue when it talks up the possibility of tax cuts in next October’s budget, which won’t benefit the low paid one jot, when many people this year are being chased for three separate regressive taxes.
The government can rest assured that I and others will make these unjust taxes a major issue in the European and local elections in the coming weeks and months and make it a major pressure point for the government parties. We will lay the basis for a boycott campaign of the water tax in the aftermath of the elections when the bills come in autumn. The potential for such a campaign is clearly evidenced by the enormous residual resistance to the property tax despite all the bullying and threats. I repeat my call for the government to be fully up front with the cost the water tax will represent for ordinary people well in advance of the election rather than trying to box clever in an effort to avoid a humiliation at the polls.
Paul Williams in the Irish Independent has been playing defence for the Gardaí and in particular Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, since the GSOC bugging scandal broke. The Irish Independent has published article after article designed to deflect attention from the bugging of GSOC and to put pressure on the GSOC Chairman, Simon O’Brien. This transparent attempt to shield the Gardaí from scrutiny reached laughable proportions this morning with the story on the front page of the Irish Independent by Paul Williams.
In this story, he tried to suggest that there was no basis for two of the three suspicions of bugging. No sooner had he made these claims than they were rubbished by counter-surveillance firm Verrimus, which was responsible for carrying out the tests. Verrimus correctly described it as ‘wholly inaccurate reporting’. There was simply no basis for his story, as there has been no basis for his stories over the past week trying to claim that there is nothing to see here at all.
It is well known that Paul Williams has been the unofficial mouthpiece of Commissioner Callinan and the Gardaí for years. He played a particularly disgusting role in smearing peaceful protesters against Shell’s refinery in Rossport, for which he was allegedly rewarded by Shell with tickets for an Ireland v. England rugby match in 2007. Real questions must be asked about the role he and Independent newspapers have played in distorting debate over the Garda Síochána. Are his propaganda pieces for the Gardaí the price he pays for information from the very top?
The political and media establishment in this country have tried to shut down this story from the moment it broke. We had the Taoiseach Enda Kenny misquoting legislation. We had Minister for Justice Alan Shatter mislead the Dáil, despite the briefing note he had from GSOC. We had Independent Newspapers in particular trying to turn the story against GSOC.
These attempts to shut down the story should only make people more suspicious of who was bugging the Garda Ombudsman and who knew about it. Thanks to Sunday Times journalist John Mooney in particular, the dogs on the street know that the top brass of the Gardaí had ample reason to engage in such bugging. They also should be aware of the extremely close relationship between Callinan, Shatter and Paul Williams. A public inquiry is now essential.
Today the European Parliament’s Environment Committee discussed the ‘Right2Water’ citizens’ initiative. The initiative was signed by almost 1.9 million people across Europe demanding that water is treated as a public good, not a commodity. This view stands in contrast to the super rich, such as the Chairman of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who has stated that “access to water is not a public right”.
The initiative calls on the European Commission to propose legislation that would require governments to provide all citizens with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation and that these services are not privatised.
This citizens’ initiative, along with recent municipal referendums across Europe, have shown that when people are given a choice they will strongly oppose the privatisation of their water service. I think the government should give the Irish people the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the future of our water service.
The government is intent on commodifying water and via the establishment of Irish Water, is in the process opening up this vital public services to privatisation. This would be a disaster, and would see water bills turn into a major financial imposition on families already hard pressed by years of austerity. People should be given the opportunity to give their views on it and be given the option of sowing their opposition to Water Tax and their support for a publically owned service paid for through a progressive taxation system.
I think if the Irish government is unprepared to put this vital to issue to public vote then it is another reason to punish the establishment parties by voting for candidates in the local and European elections that will fight against this austerity tax. The Socialist Party and Anti-Austerity Alliance candidates will stand in these elections against the Water Tax rip-off and will use it as a step towards building mass boycott campaign against the Water Tax.
The ScamBridge.ie campaign today held a protest outside SuperValu in Deansgrange which has recently advertised to hire two sales assistants and a butcher’s assistant through the JobBridge scheme.
These are not internships but are clearly jobs which could be learned in a matter of weeks rather than 9 months. SuperValu will boost their profits from this free labour for nine months. This is an example of the exploitation of the unemployed which we have said is endemic in the JobBridge scheme.
We held a protest outside the store and spoke to many customers who were annoyed at the store’s use of the scheme. We have also erected posters in the area to expose the scheme to the local community, and have dropped leaflets asking people to contact the store and make their feelings known to the management and owners. We want them to reconsider their participation in the scheme and hire any interns they currently have as paid employees.
Today’s protest marks the beginning of an escalation of our campaign. JobBridge is to be made compulsory under the Youth Guarantee. We intend to react to this by targeting employers who use the scheme with militant protests to drive them off the scheme. We intend to make the scheme too hot for any employer to go near and turn this abuse of the unemployed into a major issue in society.
The Employment and Social Affairs committee of the European Parliament today voted on a draft report dealing with the impact of the troika on the programme countries. This report has been significantly watered down and represents a whitewash of the disastrous troika policies. The aim of this report is to understate the impact of the Troika’s austerity and to absolve national governments for their role in implementing austerity.
The same old argument is made that the so-called ‘structural reforms’ were necessary and don’t reflect a political choice. This is a bogus argument to hide the conscious choice made to pay back the bondholders and implement an ‘internal devaluation’ by means of slashing of wages and living standards.
This is also a sadly missed opportunity to show the real impact of austerity on working people. On the one hand the severity of the existing problems is played down in this report. While on the other hand the illusion is created of ‘fairer austerity’ that could be implemented and that this will relieve some of people’s burdens. The reality is that ‘fair austerity’ does not exist and new cuts will only deepen the wounds caused in recent years. Essentially, if we do not change course and implement fundamentally different policies, recovery will continue to be an empty word for working people.
The report also fails to address that the fact that a tiny minority benefited enormously from austerity – bondholders were paid in full and big business in Ireland increased its profits by 21% since 2008.
The troika and their partners in Member State governments should take responsibility for the policies they pursued and the toll they took on the lives of working people. Austerity measures should be ended and radically different policies including a programme of state investment should be put in place.