Anti Home Tax Campaign Defeated by Fear
While the outcome of the anti-Property Tax campaign (Campaign Against Household & Water Taxes) can be described as disappointing, I think it’s important to recognise the mountain which we needed to climb to succeed. Bearing in mind that almost 60% of voters cast their ballots for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, parties which clearly accepted the Property Tax precisely because of its unfair nature, our campaign was seeking the support of those who would suffer most from this extra tax. Supporters of this unfair tax calculated that they would pay less if more people were forced to pay, even those struggling on the breadline. It must also be conceded that the government learnt from our success in the campaign against the Household Tax and organised the imposition of the so called Property Tax in a more effective way. The introduction of the Revenue Commissioners was a successful scare tactic. Also ranged against the anti-home tax argument were the ever compliant media, increasingly reflecting the views only of its owners or political pay masters. The impotence of the trade union movement which, apart from three unions, chose to either ignore the unequal and unjust nature of the tax or to actually support for it, also damaged the viability of the campaign. Finally, it has to be accepted that a large percentage of people are currently but mistakenly 'keeping the head down and hoping for the return of the good times'. These were the main factors which made the CAHWT campaign a David versus Goliath battle.
The campaign called on householders to boycott the Tax by ignoring the threats of Revenue. Some people have subsequently said this was a foolhardy position to take but they didn’t offer any alternative tactics and were too ready to accept defeat. I believe the boycott was the only position we could take. While populist and electoral minded politicians like Sinn Fein and some of the Dail Left TD's paid lip service to the opposition to another unequal tax their inaction only played into the government's hands. This was an important battle. To shy away has only emboldened the government and strengthened their hand. Future campaigns against the further austerity measures planned have been damaged by this defeat. Any campaign against the Water Tax will now face an uphill battle.
It must be accepted that we in the CAHWT failed to explain to enough householders that opposition to the Revenue was possible and the tax was beatable. By making the workings of Revenue, who have never had to deal with large scale avoidance, unwieldy, we could have provided a serious setback for the government and their ongoing plans for greater austerity. Some of the left wing groups involved in the CAHWT must take some responsibility for the weakness of the campaign at the crucial stage of Revenue involvement. The petty squabbles engaged in by some of these groups diverted energy and resources at time when the campaign needed to be focused on the Government response. A greater active involvement by ordinary people needs to be encouraged to negate the influence of these small unrepresentative groups. Ironically, on a local level, these left wing groups may find their electoral breakthrough hampered by the likes of the Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) style political opportunists. The public compliance of Sinn Fein TD’s such as Pearse Doherty, Padraig MacLochlainn and Mary Lou McDonald in the week running up to the closing date for registration dealt the campaign a serious blow. However, it must be acknowledged that over 200,000 households have still not registered and this indicates a significant backbone of opposition to the Government.
One of the successes of the CAHWT has been the coming together of thousands of ordinary people who have had no previous involvement in campaigning for social change. From this I have hope, my personal experiences of the anti-drug movement in the 90's saw many people emerge from their communities to play valuable roles in creating better opportunities for their neighbourhoods. I am hopeful than many people involved in the CAHWT will fulfill similar roles. The success of the campaign against Household Tax has been overshadowed by the outcome of the 'boycott' campaign but the memories of the huge rallies in the National Boxing stadium, the Fine Gael and Labour conferences will not be forgotten. Ordinary householders took action to express their opposition to increasing financial attacks on their families. Hundreds of people attended local area meetings to express their anger at Government policies and the Labour Party in particular.
Over 200,000 households are still taking action and boycotting this unfair tax. I am one of them. Revenue may get my money eventually through deduction at source but it won’t be with my consent and I intend to make it as hard as possible. Unlike Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald, I don't 'play by the rules' because the rules are made to protect the super wealthy and not the ordinary working families.
The short term will probably see the so-called Labour Party suffer an electoral meltdown but those who replace them may not be any better. Does anybody truly believe Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein will repeal the Property Tax? Excuses will be made - further Troika demands or falling revenues etc... No Government will turn down the €500 million collected from the Property Tax. Worst still, all possible future Governments, whether comprised of Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein or Labour or Fine Gael, will continue to implement the polices of austerity at the behest of the European and Irish banks. Only a grassroots movement of ordinary people can defeat the politics of austerity. We have our work cut out!!!
As I write this piece, it has been announced that consumer spending is at its lowest level in 20 years. That is the real outcome of the Property Tax and the continuation of the Austerity attacks on the ordinary working people of Ireland.