Victories for Anti Household Tax Campaign Show Importance Of Local Organising

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Anti Household Tax campaigners have this week had 2 major victories against government and County Council attempts to bully people into registering for the hated tax. In Clare, following a week long campaign which culminated in a protest march to the Council offices on Friday (21st), the Council were forced to publicly back down from threats to withhold or delay third-level grants from students whose families are refusing to pay the household tax.

On Monday, campaigners in Clare were contacted by a local resident who had received a letter from the County Council asking her to furnish proof of payment of the household tax before they would release her third level grant.  It was clear from even a cursory knowledge of the relevant legislation that this demand had no basis in law.  It was also clear that Council officials were attempting to exploit the fact that families would obviously not want to risk a student’s chance of taking up a college place as leverage to frighten people into paying up.

Pressure

The campaign locally, with support and help from neighbouring areas and from the national campaign, sprung into action and immediately pressure began to be applied on Clare Co. Co. and on national politicians to have this decision reversed.  Student groups including Free Education for Everyone (FEE) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) issued statements calling for the letter to be withdrawn and members of USI held a picket outside the offices of South Tipperary County Council (who had sent a similar letter to grant applicants).

Early in the week, the councils must have felt they were going to be able to brazen it out as government ministers including Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan defended their actions with Hogan saying "They are doing what (I have) instructed all local authorities to do - to ensure that we get a higher level of compliance with the household charge."

As the week progressed, however, it was clear that the pressure being exerted by local campaigners was bearing fruit.  Impressive media performances by members of the Clare campaign outlined clearly the Campaign’s determination to defeat this attempt to bully people into registering through popular protest.  Meanwhile USI announced that it would, if necessary, take court action against Clare Co. Co. or any other local authorities who were attempting to delay or withhold grants.

The pressure was such that by Wednesday Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced to admit that County Councils had no legal basis to withhold or delay grants.  Not content with this statement, however Clare CAHWT announced plans to proceed with a protest planned for Friday.  “…while the Taoiseach has responded to the pressure, we now need to hear Clare County Manager state clearly that all student grant applications will now be processed without delay," Pamela Rochford of Clare CAHWT said.  "We also believe that he owes an apology to the students and families who were targeted by these letters.  These are decent law-abiding citizens who have taken a principled stance to oppose an unjust tax.”

Result!

And on Friday that is exactly what campaigners forced Clare Co. Co. to say.  As Paul Whitmore of Clare CAHWT put it in a statement “We marched into the Council Offices to demand a clear written promise from them that they would not in anyway discriminate against non payers, and would stop sending these threatening forms to grant applicants. As a sign of the huge impact of people power, we have now received these guarantees in writing. This is a huge victory for our campaign. Hopefully in the future, the council will think twice before attempting such scare tactics.”

Meanwhile, Friday lunchtime also saw members of Wicklow CAHWT protesting outside the offices of Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton.  The protest was called in response to the fact that a campaign member from Arklow who had applied for a Public Services Card was asked to provide evidence of her address, with the letter listing ‘receipt for payment of household charge’ as one of the acceptable forms of proof.

Gisela Schubert, the non-payer who received this letter from the Dept. of Social Protection, said “The letter states that you can produce either a property lease, tenancy agreement or the household charge receipt, but if you own your house you won’t have the first two.”

On being contacted by Gisela, the Wicklow Campaign immediately called a protest at the Dept. and demanded that the letter be withdrawn.  Following the protest, and no doubt fearing a backlash of public opinion similar to what had been unleashed in Clare all week, the Dept. issued a statement saying that failure to pay the household tax would not put social welfare payments at risk.

Clarification

Campaigners welcomed this statement from the Department but called for the wording of the letter in question to be clarified in order to avoid further confusion.  “I welcome the fact that Clare County Council retreated on the issue of referring to the Household Tax from the point of view of third level grant applications,” said Niamh McDonald of the Wicklow CAHWT.  “The Department of Social Protection must now follow by not weaving the Household Tax into their application processes.”

These two victories for the Campaign show the importance of local organisation and having the ability to respond quickly to issues as they arise.  They will also give great heart and confidence to campaigners as the CAHWT gears up for possible court cases later in the Autumn and as a round of public meetings begins to solidify the campaign and continue to build opposition to the property tax due to be introduced in December’s budget.

The Campaign depends on the involvement of as many people as possible in as many areas as possible.  If there’s a campaign group in your area, get involved and help to build and strengthen the campaign.  If your area is not organised, get in touch with the Campaign hotline 1890 98 98 00 and the Campaign’s outreach group will be delighted to assist you in helping to get something off the ground.

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