3 November 2005 Edition

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Rates hike slammed

North budget - British Ministers to be challenged

British Direct Ruler, Peter Hain, was slammed last week after he announced plans to raise rates in the Six Counties by 19% in the space of one year. They will also increase by 6% in 2007-'08 as the British Government is set to introduce water charges in the North.

The hike will leave householders dealing with an average annual bill of £620 as opposed to the present average rate of £546.

While Hain claimed the rise was necessary "to maintain local public services at the same level as elsewhere". Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún and campaigners have rubbished his assertion.

De Brún said decades of infrastructural neglect presided over by the British Government could only be tackled by a special peace package. "There is a legacy of discrimination, inequality and disadvantage that must be tackled. This has damaged every part of our infrastructure — roads, schools, hospitals, railways and sewerage. The solution is not to increase the tax burden on people here through water charges and rates increases but for the British Government to accept its responsibility to compensate for historic under-investment.

The Sinn Féin MEP added: "The EU peace funds and the International Fund for Ireland are a recognition of the impact that discrimination, partition and conflict have had on the social and economic well-being of our society. But these valuable programmes are not a substitute for a British Government funded peace dividend. It is time that the British Government recognised their responsibility to address the impact of the conflict and of under-funding by successive British administrations."

Trade union NIPSA and Age Concern also criticised the rates hikes saying they will only exacerbate poverty. Pam Tilson from Age Concern said: "The rates increase, coupled with impending water charges and increasing oil prices, are the catalogue of things that are hitting older people, who have fixed incomes. When you add everything up, for someone on a low income, every penny counts."

NIPSA General Secretary John Corey was also scathing. "We most strongly refute Mr Hain's comments about public sector pay levels exceeding inflation. This is wholly misleading." There is chronic underfunding with services being cut back.

"We need to examine what other cuts are being imposed in the so-called lower priority programmes to provide the extra funding."

Sinn Féin is to challenge the British Government over the rates increases and other budget issues next Monday when the British Secretary of State and his Ministerial colleague Jeff Rooker hold the first of a series of briefings for MLAs. Areas to be covered areas include the budget, health, review of public administration and a water tax and the rates increase.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said: "Sinn Féin has many concerns about crucial aspects of the budget being proposed by British Government Ministers: the planned 19% rates increases and water taxes; the dependency on PFI; and concerns that the increase in expenditure on children, education, training and renewable energy will come at the cost to other services, are among the matters we intend challenging the British Government on.

"No British Government can hope to get the balance right in budgeting for the needs of people in the North. This is particularly so when it applies criteria constructed for British conditions and not for those which exist in this part of Ireland and refuses to acknowledge the adverse impact of lower wages, the higher levels of unemployment and poverty, higher energy and living costs and the effects of decades of discrimination and conflict."

"The proposals being put by the British Government for spending in the North for the time ahead reinforces the argument that local politicians must take responsibility for this process. No group of British Ministers, working to policy positions designed for application in Britain, can hope to meet the needs of the people of the North. All of this emphasises the imperative on the political parties to urgently re-establish the political institutions and again take responsibility for these matters."

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