Measures will further impoverish families already struggling under a tidal wave of debt and rocketing taxes and charges
Sligo News File Online
The Coalition is continuing to attack ordinary Irish families, this time with measures designed to enable pensions, welfare allowances and wages of even the lowest paid to be raided to secure payment for water and other utilities.
The Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill 2015 is a brutal concoction of the Fine Gael-Labour government that will have the effect of further impoverishing families already struggling to survive under a tidal wave of debt and ever spiralling taxes and charges. It also comes on the heels of recent government action under which thousands of children face a life of abject poverty owing to cuts of upwards of nearly €100 per week in the Lone parents allowance
Speaking in Dail, Sligo-Leitrim TD, Michael Colreavy described the Bill as a law to facilitate the taking of money from people, most of whom are living on or below the poverty line.
“I feel a certain sympathy for the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, as she introduces the Bill today. It was always going to be a difficult idea to sell to the Dáil and, more importantly, to the people when the Bill is effectively providing that the Government can sequester money from people, many, if not most, of whom are living on or below the poverty line. That is what the Bill entails. Is it good that people will not have to go to jail for owing small amounts of money? Yes, it is, and that is the good element. The difficult element is there is not nearly enough detail in how the Government, and society through Government, can distinguish and make different arrangements for those who cannot pay, as distinct from those who will not pay. It is informative that the limits in the Bill make it clear the legislation is aimed generally at people who cannot pay. Most people will try to ensure they do not fall into arrears, however small. It will be a difficult sell in the Dáil, and more importantly, to the people because the Bill will essentially facilitate the taking of money from people, most of whom are living on or below the poverty line.
“That is not the Minister’s only difficulty with this Bill. In any examination of the legislation, there are two words that are not in it, yet they scream loudly from it. They are “water charges”, and I will deal with that in a moment. I have thought about where this fits in the overall picture. I did not go as far off the field as Deputy Mathews but I did think about the start of water charges. Would people stand by if a lone parent with a couple of children, who may have had €100 taken from him or her by the events this week, was fined and had money sequestered by an employer or the Government through the Department of Social Protection under this legislation? Irish people have always displayed decency and humanity that is sometimes absent from the Government’s policy and legislation, and they would not tolerate that scenario. No matter what we say or do in here, Irish people will feel the consequences of this Bill.
Vultures, hovering to see if there were any dead bodies on which to feed
“With regard to the wider context of water charges, let us hark back to the beginnings. Scene one starred such luminaries as Fianna Fáil, which is currently in opposition, the European Union, the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and various golden circles. They were vultures, hovering to see if there were any dead bodies on which to feed. They decided to introduce a savage tax on water but it would not be called a tax. Instead, it would be called a water charge. They could blame the troika, which would be sweet; some nice work. In any case, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, while in opposition, would not notice or only put up token resistance. They knew that if they were in government, they would do exactly the same.
“Scene two saw the new Fine Gael and Labour Party Government, with a Taoiseach promising a new way of governance and a democratic revolution, no less. Enter, stage right, the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, who dusted off the previous Government’s proposals. He appointed and paid a people’s ransom to management consultants, and he assumed that people would meekly accept the imposition of the tax called water charges. When it finally dawned on the Minister that his legislation might not get an easy ride through the Dáil and Seanad, he pushed it through and wondered why the pesky Opposition did not behave like Fine Gael and Labour did when they were in opposition. There were late-night debates and guillotines, which heightened the dramatic effect.
“When the people took to the streets and loudly shouted “No”, former Minister Phil Hogan said he was out of here and was going to a place where his skills would be better appreciated and where he did not have to deal directly with the populace, and that just as well he had a good pension plan.
“In scene three the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, a new broom and an action man who gets things done, entered stage centre-right. He spoke about water losses, the disgraceful water supply and people nearly being poisoned by lead pipes. He articulated his vision of an Ireland with perpetual fresh, cool and unpolluted drinking water for this and future generations, but did not mention fracking and how it might poison the water forever if it is allowed. He reduced the tax and is always careful never ever to mention the word “privatisation”. The final sweetener is the €100 bribe- sorry, conservation grant – and we cross our fingers and hope the EU’s competition authority does not examine it too closely, and we continue never to mention privatisation. This is why I have a certain sympathy for the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and her Bill. It has been hijacked by the water tax implementation gang. This is the context as I see it.
Bill allows Irish Water, utility companies and multinationals to seek court orders enabling attachment of earnings for enforcement of debt between €500 and €4,000
“The Bill allows creditors, including Irish Water as well as other utility companies and multinationals, to apply to the courts for an order enabling the attachment of earnings or deductions from social welfare payments for the purpose of the enforcement of a debt of between €500 and €4,000. Generally speaking, a person owing such a debt would most likely not be paying it simply because he or she could not afford to pay.
“The Bill has been brought into effect because the Government has been rattled by the hundreds of thousands of people who have mobilised against Irish Water. I would go so far as to say were it not for the Irish Water protests, it is unlikely the Bill would be before us today. The Government seems determined to draw blood from the stone that is the Irish people. Since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the previous Government, continued by the current Government, adopted a policy of targeting those worst-off in society as a means of alleviating the national debt. Perhaps I am naive, but I am prepared to think that perhaps this was not an intentional policy and that on setting out, no one foresaw the results and consequences of the decisions and choices made. I do not know. What is clear is that the choices, decisions and policies attack those on the bottom rung of society rather than tax the elites. This is very clear. Thankfully, we are beginning to discover at last some of the elites and parts of the golden circle. We hear names and we hear of those who used to make large contributions to the political parties. As a result, the Government has adopted what could be seen as a policy of enforced poverty because it is Government choices and decisions bringing it about. This poverty is not created by personal circumstance, bad luck or falling on hard times, it is poverty directly related to the policies of the State. The Government has introduced a series of measures during its term in office that directly impacts on the living standards of ordinary people. It introduced a tax on the family home which sought to raise funds to replace money it had cut from local councils. The Government portrayed this as a measure to provide funding for local authorities. In reality it was a tax on families to replace what the Government had stolen from local authority funding to pay off banking debt. This was the circle and it is very clear for everyone to see.
“The Government then decided to introduce a water charge to squeeze money out of families for something for which they had already paid through general taxation. In doing so it embarked on a craze of installing water meters throughout the country, spending public funds to dig up footpaths and people’s driveways, not to mention the extensive and very expensive consultants’ reports. One would question whether the reasoning for introducing water charges was to improve water conservation or the water network
“It was part of the deal struck with the troika for the receipt of bailout funds. This is why the Bill is before us today.
Water charges – Massive reaction from people
“The introduction of the water charge has seen a massive reaction from ordinary people throughout the country. People who had never attended a protest in their lives have been organising in their communities. There have been protests on every street corner and village throughout the country and people have travelled in their hundreds of thousands to attend massive public demonstrations. It has not gone away.
“The Labour Party, most of all, needs to look at its conscience and consider what it is doing. The Labour Party claims a proud heritage from James Connolly and sees itself as being born out of the 1913 strike and Lock-out. It is the party of Tom Johnson, the author of the democratic programme of the first Dáil. That democratic programme stated: “We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people.” What a noble statement. The Labour Party in particular, as part of the Government, needs to take a look at itself, its actions and the consequences of its choices and ask whether it has complied with the ethos of the democratic programme. Perhaps it would like to look across the Irish Sea to Britain and examine the government of Clement Attlee elected in 1945. Now there was a government that embarked on an ambitious programme of eradicating poverty and nationalising industry. That is probably a statement the House never expected to hear coming from a Sinn Féin spokesperson.
“Instead what we have is a Labour Party engaged in the privatisation of our national assets. It privatised Bord Gáis Energy—–
“I could say much more about the context. The Bill is attempting to streamline and make it much easier for the Government to get its hands into the pockets of poor folk. That is what it is all about. Will the lawyers be rubbing their hands with glee at this legislation? What about employers who are fair-minded and who will say if the Government wants to do so it can, but they will not put their hands into their employees’ pockets to take money? It is totally unfair to do so.
“The Government, through this Bill, is saying to citizens they have no choice, that it no longer needs to worry about their not paying because it will be able to get the money from them in any case. That is the fundamental consequence of these proposals and why this is a very poor Bill. It is why I will oppose the legislation strenuously. Have people not had to endure enough? Has the Government not taken enough from citizens already? Ministers talk about all the great jobs that are coming on stream, but the evidence shows many of them are of the lower-paid variety. Now, the Government wants to create a streamlined system which allows agents working on its behalf to put their hands into citizens’ pockets and take out the small change.
Why must the Bill include provision whereby the Government and friends of Government will be able seamlessly to impoverish the already impoverished?
“We all welcome the provisions that will ensure people do not go to prison for non-payment of small fines. That makes obvious sense. Why, then, must the Bill include a provision whereby the Government and friends of the Government will be able seamlessly to impoverish the already impoverished? We are talking about essential, basic services which people need to keep them alive. Does the Minister not see anything wrong with that? I see a great deal wrong with it and that the people of this country deserve an awful lot better. If there had been proper debate and an open mind on the part of the Government, a far better Bill would have been produced. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.”