20 December 2001 Edition

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Double taxation looms large for 2002

By Justin Moran

The failure of Dublin councillors to defeat the bin charges is representative of the failure of local democracy, generally, in Ireland
Bin Charges are set to be a feature of household budgets for tens of thousands of Dubliners, following a series of defeats for the anti-Bin Tax campaign in council chambers across Dublin this year.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael united across the city and, aided by elements in the Labour party and the Greens in certain areas, ensured that, for another year, the people of Dublin will be saddled with this double taxation.

The claim, put forward at Council meetings, is that the money is desperately needed to fund a waste management strategy. However, Sinn Féin has consistently pointed to other ways of raising the necessary funding, that would not require the introduction of bin charges, but would be a step towards a more equitable form of taxation in Dublin.


Sinn Féin councillors all over the country have raised the issue of the scandal of private rented accommodation. "This situation has to be addressed. Rack renting landlords, who think nothing of raising rents, in the current housing shortage, by 50% leaps, need to be taxed, through the rates, on these windfall gains. The funds collected should be used by councils to pay for the inspection of private rented accommodation, to ensure that conditions meet the required standards, and that the landlord is registered, complies with fire regulations, and provides a rent book, and some security of tenure to his tenants," says Dublin South-Central representative Aengus Ó'Snodaigh.

In the case of Dublin there are numerous state owned buildings in the centre of the city which pay no rates to the Corporation, yet there are heavy costs on the corporation budget to accommodate these office complexes.

Asking them to pay their share of the rates, in place of the ordinary people paying waste charges to buy a service that the council should be providing for everyone alike, is surely a viable suggestion.

Another source of revenue, raised successfully by Sinn Féin Councillor John Dwyer in Wexford, is derelict buildings. Owners of what are often most valuable sites leave them derelict, deliberately, in the expectation of large speculative gain through property values. The Derelict Sites Act empowers the council to impose a 3% levvy on the current market value of the property per annum. This offers a council substantial income unless, of course, the owner/developer takes on to immediately develop the property, which in the case of housing brings alternative benefit to the local community.


But in a broader sense, the failure of Dublin councillors to defeat the bin charges is representative of the failure of local democracy, generally, in Ireland.

The Council meeting for Dublin Corporation provided powerful evidence of this. After outlining his support for the Book of Estimates, Fianna Fáil Alderman Michael Donnolly concluded by reminding the Councillors that if they voted against the Book of Estimates Noel Dempsey, Minister for the Enivronment and Local Government, would simply force them on the people anyway.

Speaking in the aftermath of the council vote, Sinn Féin councillor Dessie Ellis said, "what we saw last night was a sham democracy, with the government and the City Manager colluding in passing this tax. Fianna Fáil councillors told us that if we didn't pass the Bin Tax Minister Noel Dempsey would pass it for us.

"Is this the respect for local democracy that the government speaks of? The people of Dublin are entitled to ask who really runs the city; their elected representatives, or the unelected bureaucrats in the Department of the Environment and the City Manager's office?"

It was a reminder of the government's similarly bullying approach to the Nice Treaty Campaign and its immediate aftermath. Democracy in Ireland only applies when, for the establishment, a palatable decision is made.

Sinn Féin has maintained a record of opposition to the Bin Tax in Dublin - that is above reproach. All six councillors in the Corporation and South Dublin County Council voted against the Book of Estimates, despite intense pressure from members of other parties and council officials to support the tax or abstain.


One of the most dissappointing developments in the votes against the Bin Charges was the failure of the Labour Party to take a united stand in opposition to the Book of Estimates in South Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation.

Labour party councillor Mick Billane voted for the double tax in South Dublin and the decision of three Labour party councillors to abstain in the vote at City Council was a key element in the vote there.

Had Labour councillors Anthony Creevey, Eamonn O'Brien and Seán Kenny voted against the charges they would have tied the vote. And while this would not have been enough, by itself, had Labour councillor Mary Freehill attended the meeting it would have been enough to defeat the Book of Estimates and force a showdown with the Minister.

Tragically, Ruairí Quinn's ostensible attitude towards Fianna Fáil, voiced last week in that somewhat uncouth phrase "get the bastards out", does not seem to be in operation when it comes to bin charges.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1