THE Government is going to have to pay the lion's share of a €200 million bill to repatriate almost 800,000 tonnes of waste originating from the south, but dumped in the north.
The illegally deposited material, a mixture of commercial and domestic waste, has been discovered in 78 sites, mainly in the border areas but to an extent in every county.
The average size of the dumps is 10,000 tonnes and it is estimated it will cost between €200 - €250 a tonne to remove.
According to the north's Environment and Heritage Service: "Officials from both jurisdictions have been discussing repatriation of illegal waste for some time.
"After a long period of negotiation agreement has been reached that the Republic will repatriate waste from two illegal sites - Slattinagh, Co Fermanagh and Trillick, Co Tyrone.
"The mechanics of these operations, and the associated cost liabilities, have yet to be agreed."
The high price of waste disposal in the Republic is being cited as the main reason rubbish is being smuggled into the north from here. Waste from as far away as Cork has made it across the border.
To date, there have been three cases where farmers in the north have been jailed for allowing their lands to be used as dumping sites.
In the most recent case in January, a farmer was jailed for four months for allowing 1,900 tonnes of municipal rubbish, including surgical gloves, incontinence pads and metal to be deposited on his land. Upon analysis it was found that the waste had come from Dublin, Wexford and Cork.
The Environment and Heritage Service calculated that if the waste had been dumped legally in the Republic it would have cost €420,000 whereas if it had been dumped legally in the north it would have cost £88,000 (€117,792).
The farmer responsible, Philip Johnston from Killadeas, Enniskillen, was given a £10,000 (€12,800) fine, as well as the prison term, after the judge in the case said the defendant had made a deal with a person from the Republic for "a substantial payment".
The service said there were another three cases pending from 2007. It intends to work with our Environmental Protection Agency to try to trace the identity of the dumpers responsible for all 78 dumps. There has already been co-operation between the Northern authorities and local authorities in the south to take responsibility for the cost of the waste while culprits are sought.
Last night the Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement in which it said: "The EPA has been informed of 20 Northern sites that are suspected of containing illegally deposited waste from the Republic of Ireland. This waste would appear to be historical."
© Irish Examiner 19.03.08
'Four walls do not a prison make,nor iron bars a cage'
David Begg I.C.T.U. general secretary;Another traitor for old Ireland- another hero for Bertie Ahern.?
The Trade Unions
"The General Secretary of the I.C.T.U., David Begg, has accused the campaigners of 'leading ordinary working people into a cul-de-sac of imprisonment in pursuit of a political objective'" (Irish Times, 18.10.2003).
Only one in 4 of todays workforce are unionized-and most of those that are are civil servants.
David Begg and those he really represents have done well from benchmarking. Reality is,his 'union' is now simply another lobby group, in Bertie's pocket,no different to the Irish Farmers Association.
In a stirring speech in 2005 Mr Begg decried the 'american dream' and embraced the Scandanavian model of high taxes and social inclusion. Frankly I doubt that privatisation of essential services and imposing escalating bin taxes on old age pensioners is the beginning of a wonderful new Irish Utopia. He declared in his moving speech ;
" My own preference is firmly located in Europe. A country where 40 million people have no health insurance and 25% are illiterate has no attractions for me. What the proponents of the American model fail to realise is that the country has changed radically in the last thirty years. It is a very divided nation but the locus of political opinion has moved steadily to the right where a combination of Chicago School economics and protestant fundamentalism makes it unattractive to anyone with any disposition to social justice."
Might it be possible that Mr Beggs has lost touch with the aspirations of his union's founding fathers...?
The role of the Unions has been even worse than that of the Labour Party. SIPTU, the biggest union in the country, has an official policy against the Bin Tax, yet will not support those bin workers who are willing to put this policy into effect. I have stood on blockades on the depots and spoke to shop stewards who were looking for instruction from the union only to find that absolutely no support was forthcoming. Without the support of the bin workers, there would be no way that the campaign could have brought waste collection in Dublin to a stand still. The bin workers understand that the hidden agenda of the Bin Tax advocates is the push for privatization and the negative impact this will have on their terms and conditions of employment. While rank and file trade unionists are totally opposed to this tax, the leadership of the unions are so entwined with the Government since the Social Partnerships began that they are willing to back the Government position and actually put pressure on the bin workers to break the pickets on the depots. The support of the bin workers for the campaign is such that if the unions were supportive, the bin tax would be history. At a crucial stage in the battle against this tax, the jailing of Higgins and Daly, David Beggs came out with a statement attacking the campaign.
Only the most naive would believe that he hadn’t got a call from his ‘partners’ in Government insisting that he twist the knife in the back of the campaign.
Jailed T.D. Joe Higgins expressed his frustration at being gagged,when he was imprisoned, but told a Socialist Party Colleague Mick Barry who visited him in Mountjoy that he was "infuriated" over the attack that Mr Begg's statement was a "deliberate stab in the back to the hundreds of thousands of working people and their families in the Greater Dublin area who are demanding the immediate suspension of the non-collection of refuse bins from householders boycotting the bin tax and the abolition of the tax in favour of proper funding of local authority services from the taxes workers pay Government."
"Who is Mr. Begg representing?" Joe Higgins asked. "The big majority of the trade union membership affiliated to I.C.T.U. have through their National Conferences adopted a clear policy of opposition to double taxation in the form of local taxes. So Mr. Begg's attack is expressing his view and not that of the membership he is supposed to represent."
Joe Higgins said it was "an incredible situation that not only is the Anti Bin Tax Campaign under attack from the Government, and from leading members of the so called Opposition in the Dáil but now the leadership of the trade union movement, flying in the face of its membership is prepared to be a mudguard for the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government."
Joe Higgins told his visitor "Is it any wonder that with the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Union in its pockets, this Government can feel free to give massive tax breaks to big business while piling on a plethora of stealth taxes on ordinary working people; can abolish the first time house buyers grants while allowing obscene profiteering in the housing market create endless misery for the scores of thousands now priced out of a home".
Joe Higgins said that Mr. Begg tried to raise the issue of proper funding for local authorities but his attack on those fighting the bin tax means the Government has no problem carrying on hitting the usual suspects for taxation.
Joe Higgins accused Mr. Begg of "gross dishonesty" in alleging that the Anti Bin Tax Campaign might cause privatisation of the bin collection services in Dublin. "The reality is that the dozens of local authorities which have privatised domestic refuse collection did so after they had forced a bin tax regime and browbeat households into compliance."
"In any case Mr. Begg has no moral authority to speak as an anti privatisation champion having been himself a willing tool in the preparation of Telecom Eireann "a vital national asset" for privatisation a scheme which burned thousands of small people conned into purchasing shares.
Joe Higgins accused Mr. Begg of feebly attempting to justify the bin tax in environmental grounds. "Mr. Begg falls for the line that the bin tax is a serious environmental policy", in fact it is a substitute for a policy and in reality a crude revenue raising measure.
Finally, Joe Higgins asked, "after 16 years of so called partnership between trade union representatives, government and employers, it would seem that Mr. Begg doesn't remember who he is supposed to defend or represent. If he couldn't bring himself to articulate the feeling of the majority of trade union membership in opposition to the bin tax, he should have chosen a shamed silence over open treachery".
Bertie Ahern is cosy with an unusual mix of trade unionists, though not exactly of the Jim Larkin or James Connolly mould(except in their determination to bear arms). One of those whom he keeps closest to him is Phil Flynn (he shares an office next door to Bertie).Phil is a former banker and trade union leader-but also a staunch republican, (ex president of Sinn Fein) now ensconced in the midst of another staunch 'Republican Party'. He is currently under investigation as part of the Garda enquiry into I.R.A. money laundering of 30 million from the Northern Bank etc. (Aug.2005). He is still drawing consultancy fees from the government for his role as a powerful 'facilitator'(whatever that is) in the on going tensions between the Health Services Executive and the powerful public service trade union 'Impact' His fees are estimated at 2000 Euros daily. 'Benchmarking 'civil servants is,it seems, an expensive process in more ways than one. Retiring them on full wages is it seems equally difficult.Mr Flynn does not put a gun to anyones head during his stewardship of these delicate negotiations .(Throwing money at Public service Unions was a role at which Bertie himself excelled when he was Minister for Labour). However the discovery of a gun in Mr Flynn,s office recently has caused some alarm.Perhaps he was not aware that the I.R.A. decomissioning applied...south of the border.? Strange friends indeed.
PHIL Flynn, the former President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in February 2005 denied knowledge of any persons meeting with arms dealers in Bulgaria.
Mr Flynn, a non-executive director of Chesterton Finance Ltd, the firm at the heart of Garda investigations into alleged subversive money-laundering, said he had no idea where the allegation came from.
"I didn't meet anyone selling arms in Bulgaria. It is absolute nonsense. I don't think it is anything to do with me personally," he said.
Garda sources have been anonymously quoted to the effect that a man detained in connection with the cash raids had come to their attention because of meetings with arms dealers in the former Soviet satellite.
Mr Flynn said he travelled with other directors of Chesterton to Bulgaria recently to assess potential investments.
"We did all the business in Sofia. We spent five days there and had 30 meetings and looked at a rake of options. I had been to Bulgaria in the past."
Mr Flynn, who said the company did not take up any of the options examined in the 30 meetings, said: "What we were doing was going to 'suss it out'. We met lawyers, accountants, bankers and developers. I didn't meet anyone selling arms." He was not ready to jump to conclusions about Chesterton, adding: "I don't know what's going on. I'm going to wait and see.
"I'm absolutely satisfied that Chesterton is OK. There's no-one saying yet that there's anything wrong with Chesterton." He first checked into the firm nine or 10 months ago when asked to join the board, he said. He was "quite satisfied" with what he found.
Editors note; ( Bulgaria is acknowledged to be the most corrupt nation in the queue for membership of the E.E.U. and has little likelihood of success.)
Mr Begg is an unusual animal.
The Report of the Democracy Commission entitled 'Engaging Ctizens' The Case for Democratic Renewal in Ireland, was launched in the National Library of Ireland on October 26th.2005 (www.tascnet.ie)
Speaking at the launch, the chair of the Commission, David Begg said, "From the early days of the work of the commission,it quickly became clear to us that people, although disillusioned and disenchanted, were not disengaged. This raised a number of issues with us. Firstly we were concerned that if the disillusionment and disenchantment were not addressed then people would become disengaged. Secondly we were aware that there were many who were already disengaged by virtue of a lack of information, a lack of experience and a lack of opportunity to participate in issues that affected them. Thirdly we heard from those who had tried to engage but faced obstacles in doing so. Finally in our discussions with those at the helm of Irish democracy, the political representatives, we realised that they too were often disillusioned and disenchanted
"A statesman is an easy man, he tells his lies by rote;
A journalist makes up his lies and takes you by the throat;
So stay at home and drink your beer and let the neighbours vote"
These words were written eighty years ago by the disenchanted sceptic, W.B. Yeats.The passage of time does not necessarily change the human condition all that much.So it is not to be expected that any review of the state of our democracy would give it an absolutely clean bill of health.The question is rather if it can be improved to make it more responsive to the needs ofthe population and the common good. We conclude that it can and should and thisreport contains a number of recommendations which will, we think, allow for a more engaged and active citizenry which should in turn lead to a greater empowerment of people. Our hope is that some or all of these ideas will be debated and ultimately
adopted by practitioners of politics and the public at large.It is this objective of political facilitation which has dominated the work of the Democracy Commission. Only yesterday a colleague, on seeing the report, remarked that ‘it was one of the most important initiatives undertaken by any organisation in Ireland for a long time’. Indeed, the setting-up of the Democracy Commission by the two think-tanks TASC and Democratic Dialogue, was in response to widespread concerns about the capacity of democracy in Ireland to be inclusive, participatory and egalitarian.
The following is an extract from Bertie Ahern:Taoiseach & Peacemaker by Whelan and Masterson (Blackwater Press, 1998). Following a successful legal action against the Sunday Independent and Willie O'Dea, TD, the authors claimed Ahern had approved the entire manuscript. In 1977
"…A swing to Fianna Fail was still needed. And the quickest way known to politicians anywhere to finesse a swing is to bribe the electorate. When Fianna Fail published its 1977 election manifesto they brought good, old-fashioned political bribery of the electorate to new heights. Few in Fianna Fail would deny as much today. Domestic household rates and car taxes were to be abolished and social welfare rates across all sectors were to rise. That was just for starters. It was said of the manifesto that if the electorate wanted the moon, Fianna Fail would have written a promise to buy Cape Canaveral, so desperate was their need to return to Government. The manifesto was the brainchild of Trinity College Economics Professor, Martin O'Donoghue, and seemed solely predicted on the notion that if the Government put money into the economy, the economy, of itself, would grow.
"The electorate were slow to bite on the Fianna Fail giveaway with the polls showing no immediate shift of allegiance. The policies themselves were being rubbished by independent economic commentators as 'spending our way out of a boom'—indeed, political commentary in the media was generally hostile to the party. Gradually, however, the middle classes, who were set to benefit most, began looking at their personal bank balances and started moving their votes to Fianna Fail."
"In retrospect, Ahern believes that the 1977 Manifesto was economic make-believe. Other economic commentators are not as kind in their analysis, claiming the manifesto led to a huge national debt that dominated economic and political life for the following decade and took a further decade to get under control.
"The car tax thing was a nonsense and abolishing rates was totally wrong. All we needed was a waiver scheme. I remember at the time there were a lot of old people—Garda widows and retired teachers—who had huge houses but no money and they were being screwed for rates. All we needed to do was bring in a good waiver scheme for the people who hadn't got the bread. Instead, we abolished rates and here we are, 20 years on, and Dublin Corporation have to do everything on a shoe-string because they can't have a local charge."
"'I agreed with local charges but you'll not get rates back again. The game is over on that one. It has to be indirect taxation now,' he says."
"The tragedy is that he was disappointed and defeated as much by those he helped as those he opposed. His words 'if the Irish have a weakness next to drink, it is moral cowardice' ring as true today as they did at the end of the last century."MICHAEL D. HIGGINS, T.D. in a tribute to Michael Davitt (1846-1906), founder of the Land League.
JOE HIGGINS, T.D. WOULD BE REGARDED BY THE DUBLIN ESTABLISHMENT AS A BIT OF A POLITICAL HEADBANGER BUT IN HIS WILDEST POLITICAL MOMENTS, JOE COULD NEVER SURPASS THE OUTRIGHT RECKLESSNESS AND FINANCIAL IRRESPONSIBILITY OF THE 'UNCANONISED' JACK LYNCH, WHEN HE ABOLISHED DOMESTIC RATES IN 1978.
Two other heroes adulated by the Dublin Four set, the former founder and leader of the Progressive Democrats, Des O'Malley, and the current Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, were Lynch's backroom boys in the 1977 General Election which foresaw the removal of Domestic Rates on private dwelling houses from 1st April 1978, and the cast-iron election promise that local authorities would in future be guaranteed 100 per cent of the income they lost in Domestic Rates.
No single political action ever dealt such a damaging blow to the independence and authority of the concept of Local Government in Ireland.
In the debate that has followed the jailing of Joe Higgins, TD and his Socialist Party colleague, Councillor Claire Daly, Lynch's irresponsible and anti-democratic measure in his abolition of Domestic Rates in 1978 has barely received a mention.
Had the'profligate' Charles Haughey implemented such a decision, he would have carried the cross for life. Not, however, the 'real' Taoiseach!
The present writer, would also contend that Lynch's political bequest is today a major source of the immoral and outrageous cost of housing in the republic. The lack of an equitable, progressive and democratic rates system in no small way has fuelled the staggering cost of present-day housing.
The construction of enormous developments of four and five-bedroom housing would quickly be eliminated if a proper rating system existed. In its place, the intrinsic need to build modest houses would be paramount and vital resources would be freed for such a purpose. Housing would become a social requirement, not predominately a speculative exercise. Six out of all units are purchased by people who will never reside in these new dwellings. That's a national shame!
Writing a hagiography on"the man with a will of steel", Bruce Arnold, OBE, could only defend Lynch on the following basis in his "Jack Lynch: Hero In Crisis" (Merlin, 2001):
"Fianna Fail has often been blamed for 'buying' the 1977 general election; notable among the commitments used in evidence is the abolition of rates, which had been proposed by Fianna Fail before the previous election and dismissed as eve-of-poll insanity at the time. Yet the Coalition proposed the same thing in its 1977 programme: the abolition of the rates"
A load of rubbish: 25pc of us are dumping all our waste
A QUARTER of Irish households are disposing of their rubbish illegally, an official report reveals today.
More than 24pc of Irish households have either no access to collection services or don't use them, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Waste Report for 2005.
This means that 202,940 tonnes of household waste are being secretly disposed of - either burnt or handed over to illegal fly-tippers. It is against the law to burn household waste or give it to unlicensed collectors.
And despite an expensive high-profile government recycling campaign, Irish households are sending an astonishing 77pc of rubbish to already overflowing landfills. This was a small drop of 1.7pc on 2004 figures.
Environmental law review ruled out despite ‘derisory’ EPA fines:
The Department of the Environment has ruled out a review of environmental protection law, even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) obtained just €162,700 in fines from prosecutions last year.
This total was unusually high due to the €110,000 in fines imposed on the Shannon-based multinational, Schwarz Pharma, last February for 11 charges, including the emission of suspected carcinogens into the air.
When the Schwarz Pharma verdict is stripped out, the EPA obtained €52,700 in fines last year - an average of about €2,770 per prosecution.
The cost of bringing environmental prosecutions regularly exceeds the penalties imposed.
According to EPA figures, the agency was awarded costs of €209,911 by the courts last year.
An EPA spokeswoman admitted that the fines the agency could obtain were limited because it could only prosecute offenders in the District Court, where penalties are lowest. The maximum penalty for environmental offences in these courts is €3,000 per charge and a year’s imprisonment.
Although cases can be taken in higher courts by the Director of Public Prosecutions, this rarely occurs. Just three cases were heard in higher courts last year.
In each case, the EPA had attempted to bring a District Court prosecution, but the judges refused to accept jurisdiction due to the serious nature of the charges. These included the Schwarz Pharma case.
The EPA spokeswoman declined to answer questions about whether the EPA regarded these penalties as a sufficient deterrent. She said, however, that the EPA’s prosecutions had led to improved environmental standards in Irish businesses.
‘‘Legal actions taken by the EPA have led to significant investment in improvements to site infrastructure and clean-ups," she said. ‘‘This investment was estimated to be in the region of €19 million in 2005."
However, Fine Gael’s environment spokesman, Fergus O’Dowd, said the fines being imposed were ‘‘derisory’’ for significant environmental breaches.
‘‘The EPA is doing a very good job in policing the environment, but it needs to be supported with tougher fines," he said. ‘‘What is the point of bringing people to court if the fines are so small?"
O’Dowd said that maximum fines should be at a level where ‘‘companies will remember them’’.
However, a spokesman for the department said fines were a matter for the courts to decide within the limits set by legislation.
He said that the department had no plans to review the legislation governing fines, which were last increased in 2003.
© Irish Times
AN Irish pharmaceutical giant appeared in court in January 2007 following a three-year criminal investigation into waste management practices which sparked a major food scare in Europe.
Wyeth Medica Ireland is facing multiple charges over the disposal of contraceptive waste from their factory in Newbridge, Co Kildare, which ended up in pig feed in Europe, causing the animals to become infertile.
With a civil claim also pending, US multinational Wyeth has set aside almost €69m to cover the cost of legal actions against its Irish unit in the matter.
AHP Manufacturing BV, trading as Wyeth Medica Ireland, was served with a Book of Evidence in relation to 18 offences under the Waste Management (Trans Frontier Shipments) Act, 1996, at Naas District Court yesterday.
Cara Environmental Technology Ltd, which managed disposal of Wyeth's waste at the time of the alleged offences, was jointly served with the same Book of Evidence in relation to 13 charges under the same law.
Judge Murrough Conellan referred the case forward for trial at the Circuit Criminal Court in Naas on February 13, 2007.
He said he took it there was no question of legal aid being needed in the case.
David Noonan, a Wyeth director, was designated as the company's representative in the matter and on that basis was remanded on a bond of €500.
Mark Woodcock, Cara's solicitor, was designated its representative and on that basis was similarly remanded.
Judge Conellan said issues of disclosure raised by counsel for Cara were a matter for the Circuit Court.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has brought the case following a three-year investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
The outcome could be of crucial importance for Wyeth, which is facing a multi-million euro civil law suit from disgruntled pig farmers in Europe who claim to have suffered massive losses as a result.
The case centres around disposal of a waste stream containing the contraceptive and hormone replacement therapy drug, Medroxy Progesterone Acetate (MPA), manufactured by Wyeth in Newbridge.
It is believed that the sugarcoated casing of the drug was incorrectly labelled, resulting in it being exported to Belgium where the now-bankrupt company Bioland processed it into treacle, which was then used in pigfeed.
The contaminated syrup containing MPA was also used in soft drinks, which had to be recalled from the market to stop humans consuming the drug.
The case first came to light when thousands of continental farmers reported their sows were no longer producing piglets.
Wyeth is one of the biggest American multinationals currently operating in Ireland and employs around 1,400 employees at its one million square foot Newbridge factory.
It also employs 1,200 people at its BioPharma campus in Dublin and has plants in Askeaton, Co Limerick and Sligo, manufacturing a range of drugs and over-the-counter preparations, including 'Advil' and infant formula milk.
The company said it will defend the proceedings.
© Irish Independent
Thirty years ago, the issue of land prices and property speculation was examined by a committee chaired by one of the great judges of Ireland, Mr Justice Kenny.
The majority of the committee (including Kenny) recommended that the High Court be given jurisdiction to designate areas in which, in the opinion of that court, the lands would probably be used during the following ten years to provide sites for houses and factories. Local authorities would be empowered to acquire such lands for their existing-use value, plus 25 per cent.
The committee considered whether this scheme would be consistent with the private property provisions of the Constitution.
It observed that what was being proposed was not the abolition of the right to private property, but the regulation of that right in accordance with the principles of social justice, as provided by the Constitution.
When the report came before the Fine Gael-Labour cabinet in 1974, Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and Minister for Finance Richie Ryan said they were against. Nobody spoke up in favour of the recommendations of the report - not Garret FitzGerald, not Brendan Corish, not Conor Cruise O'Brien, not Justin Keating.
Since then, nothing whatsoever has been done - except to set up another committee to examine the issue.
There seems to be an acceptance that the accumulation of massive fortunes at a time of distress for others is, if not laudable, then at least inevitable. It's the way the system works and, manifestly, the system is OK - and, anyway, it is the only system.
The budget this week will do nothing to disturb that system, and perhaps only Joe Higgins will complain.
The great triumph of capitalism is to persuade its victims they are its beneficiaries and to convince everyone there is no alternative.
Except bin taxes on the poor and the pensioners
Fianna Fail's so called "Public-Private Partnership" philosophy is best exemplified in their policy with regard to caring for the old, the sick,and the handicapped.
Heretefore this has consisted of providing huge tax breaks for businessmen to open retirement homes, and charge massive resident fees, while exercising no supervision whatsoever over their activities, hence Leas Cross (etc.!)
Oddly, the charges in urban areas, are sometimes twice the going rate in the countryside.!
I have read reports that some of Ireland's wealthiest and best known billionaire stallion breeders/entrepreneurs (from the Charles Haughey era) who already own large facilities for caring for the wealthy elderly in the U.K., are moving into this lucrative activity in Ireland, at the present time.
Perhaps this is to be welcomed if it brings some professionalism to what has heretefore been a part-time plaything of smaller well connected businessmen.
No other nation in Europe allocates so little of its tax revenue, to providing adequate care for it's elderly citizens who have suffered penal taxation for all of their working lives.
No other nation in Europe extracts from its people, such a plethora of direct, indirect, and stealth taxation, and misuses those funds in the purchase of voter loyalty from sectional interests.
No other nation in Europe provides so much opportunity for non-resident profiteers to benefit, time and time again, from catering for the needs of the ordinary working people and the weak and the needy, all this ultimately at the expense of the tax payer, through the Exchequer.)
Next on the government's privitization agenda are the new private hospitals, the investor list of which includes some of the greatest rogues to emerge unscathed from tribunals of enquiries in recent decades. Ireland has to be unique in so many ways, but when it comes to Health and Welfare policy, it surely has no equal in waste, incompetence, and "pork barrel politics".
Ireland: The Battle of the Bins
Colm Breathnach is a member of the Irish Socialist Network and Finglas Anti Bin Tax Campaign. He spent two weeks in prison in October 2003, along with eight other activists from the Finglas campaign, for refusing to give a commitment that they would not engage in further blockades of bin trucks. In this article he looks at this struggle and examines where the Irish left goes from here.
THE ORIGINS OF THE BIN TAX
The Abolition of Rates
In 1977 the largest party in the Republic, the right-populist Fianna Fail (which means the rather fascistic sounding "Soldiers of Destiny") won a landslide victory in a general election. They had campaigned on a give-away manifesto which amongst other things promised the abolition of the local rates levied on houses. Once in power FF proceeded to carry out their election commitment, abolishing the house rates. To replace the income lost to local authorities the new government increased central subvention to local councils and to fund this major increase in spending workers income tax (PAYE) grew substantially.
Within a few years the Irish economy, in line with international trends, faltered badly. Unemployment soared, thousands emigrated and the national debt spiralled out of control. A succession of minority and coalition governments, dominated by Fianna Fail’s corrupt leader, Charles Haughey, tried to stabilise Irish capitalism in the face of the crisis and a growing radicalisation of the working class manifested in the rise of the Workers Party, a section of the Republican movement that had shifted to the left during the 1970s. This combined with the H Block crisis in the North demanded some extraordinary measures to ensure the continued ability of the Irish capitalist class to survive and continue the process of accumulation. A dual strategy emerged of ferocious cutbacks in public services (though not privatisation) and the corporatist social partnership process which co-opted the leadership of the trade union movement to control and divert working class militancy.
The reintroduction of Service Charges
It was in the midst of this crisis, as the central state continued to reduce the grants to local authorities and funding of the fairly minimal range of services provided dried up, that a sleight of hand was pulled by a Labour/Fine Gael coalition government (Fine Gael is Ireland’s version of continental Christian Democratic parties). In 1985, the Minister for the Environment, Labour Party leader Dick Spring, introduced water charges. These had no real relationship to the provision or consumption of water but were simply a local tax to replace the reduced central funding. There was an immediate backlash as working class taxpayers saw this for what it was: double taxation. Workers already paying for their local services through income tax were being hit a second time with the water charge bill. Although there was a waiver system which excluded the very poor, the vast majority of workers ended up being liable and this caused deep resentment.
A campaign of opposition and non-payment quickly took off, initially led by the Workers Party. The immediate effect was a disastrous local election result for the Labour Party, with the Workers Party making gains in urban areas at Labours expense. While the Workers Party led struggle took a militant turn in some areas such as Cork and Waterford, as skilled activists teams voluntarily reconnecting those disconnected for non-payment, there were problems with the campaign. Both the stalinist and social democratic wings of the Workers Party leadership were adverse to any involvement of other political forces and although ostensibly advising non-payment, in practice the campaign increasingly focused on electoral solutions.
The defeat of Water Charges
The implosion of the Workers Party in 1992, caused by a complex interaction of internal contradictions, the balance of class forces and the fall of the communist block, did not derail the campaign. It took on a new lease of life with fresh political elements, primarily the recently formed Socialist Party (formerly the Militant Tendency, Irish section of the Committee for a Workers International, which had been expelled from the Labour Party) playing a leading role especially in Dublin. This led to a revival of the earlier militant tactics despite or perhaps because of the increasing use of the courts by local councils to force defaulters to pay arrears. The mass non-payment campaign gained strength in urban working class areas. The final nail in the coffin was the inclusion of the social democratic wing of the Workers Party (now known as Democratic Left) in a coalition government with Labour and Fine Gael in 1994. The pressure on this parliamentary rump to take action on the issue on which they had built their careers was immense and after a decent interval the water charges were abolished. Ironically this did not save Democratic Left who faced the inevitable fate of parties that abandon working class independence and within a short period they were absorbed into the Irish Labour Party.
The water charges victory showed that, while an unusual political conjuncture had dealt the final blow, a mass campaign of civil disobedience could bring about real change in peoples lives. A battle had been won but the war was by no means over. The water charges were abolished but the local authorities were still entitled to level services charges. Gradually rural local authorities began to introduce charges for various services including sewerage etc. However the dominate right-wing political forces were reluctant to re-engage in battle with working class forces in Dublin, so there was a lull before the next flare up.
The introduction of the Bin Tax
Beginning in rural areas such as Sligo, where ironically they were the child of an opportunistic Sinn Fein-Fianna Fail alliance, refuse charges were gradually introduced throughout the country. Though cleverly linked to the growing waste crisis by the right, with the assistance of the Green Party, the charges popularly know as the bin tax were a means by which working people could be made to pay for a problem which was caused by the massive growth of waste, a by-product of the economic boom of the 1990s. In fact only 15% of waste in Ireland originates from domestic sources, the vast bulk arising from agriculture and industry. The failure of the retail sector to reduce packaging or produce more recyclable packaging also accounts for a large percentage of domestic waste. Yet in a barrage of propaganda characterising working class people as ignorant environmental reactionaries, amply backed by the liberal media and the more bourgeois sections of the environmental movement, the government tried to shift the responsibility for the waste crisis firmly onto the backs of ordinary people.
But there was another, more sinister, object to this new local tax: the planned privatisation of local services. Driven by the twin engines of the super-Thatcherite Progressive Democrats, the junior, though ideologically dominant, partner in a coalition government with Fianna Fail and the imposition of ‘liberalisation’ from above by the European Union, the privatisation of public services had really taken off. The pattern was established early in rural councils: first impose domestic refuse charges then transfer the newly profitable service to private concerns.
THE BIN TAX STRUGGLE
Prelude to conflict
Fearful of a severe backlash the mainstream politicians resisted the imposition of the tax in Dublin for a while, though eventually they approved the tax. Initially the fiercest battle occurred in Cork city where a strong campaign was eventually defeated with the imprisonment of a handful of activists. The campaign in Dublin was strongest in the Fingal County Council area, which covers the western suburbs and satellite towns north of the city. Here the campaign was almost exclusively led by the Socialist Party, both of whose public representatives, Joe Higgins T.D. (MP) and Cllr. Clare Daly, represented parts of the county. The Fingal campaign managed to maintain a very high level of non-payment and scored a significant victory in the courts when it was deemed that councils were obliged to collect all bins, even those of non-payers. The campaigns in Dublin’s other three local authorities were more political diverse and somewhat weaker in terms of organisation. Despite this non-payment of the tax was high in working class areas throughout the city. Another key difference was that the tax was imposed in the form of a yearly bill but the Fingal Council changed it to a weekly tag system which proved much more difficult to oppose.
The battle of the bins
The struggle entered a decisive stage in the autumn of 2003. To counter the court victory, the Minister for the Environment, a former Progressive Democrat who had defected to Fianna Fail but maintained his hard right stance, pushed legislation through the Dail (Irish Parliament) to allow councils to stop collecting the bins of non-payers. This precipitated a battle royal in Dublin. After securing a deal with SIPTU, the union representing bin workers in the area, by promising not to privatise the service, the management of Fingal County Council stopped collecting untagged bins. This ensured compliance in most middle class districts but provoked determined resistance in working class suburbs such as Blanchardstown. Groups of residents blockaded almost the entire refuse truck fleet in their estates and a stand-off ensued. The Council then got an injunction in the High Court allowing them to prosecute the blockaders defying the court order. This led to the imprisonment of Joe Higgins and Clare Daly. Facing all the power of the police and legal system the blockades gradually ended and the Fingal campaign levelled out into a phase of political propaganda.
Meanwhile the battle shifted ground to the Dublin City Council area (covering the city centre and inners suburbs). Expecting a short, sharp conflict the City Manager declared in September that he would emulate the Fingal management and begin a policy of non-collection. Predictably this precipitated an immediate response, with activists in working class areas carrying out temporary blockades of bin trucks. This led once again to the courts and an injunction was granted banning the temporary blockades. Once more people were dragged through the courts and jailed. In Finglas, a northern suburb of the city, where a very strong campaign was led by Socialist Party, Irish Socialist Network and grassroots Sinn Fein activists, twenty two people were brought to court and nine jailed. The same pattern was repeated in South Dublin County. It proved impossible to implement non-collection in much of the City area and the year ended in a stalemate. Because of the widespread popular resistance the collection of all bins continued in most working class areas outside of Fingal County. The result was a city divided between almost totally compliant middle class areas and great swathes of working class suburbs where the majority continued to refuse to pay.
It is often said that the real nature of political groups are revealed in the heat of struggle. The bin tax campaign has highlighted the organisational and ideological strengths and weaknesses of the various far left groupings. Perhaps more importantly it has indicated more clearly their relationship with the working class. At the height of autumns struggle most far left organisations and individuals were engaged to some extent in the campaign and a clear difference of perspective emerged. On the one hand the Socialist Workers Party, backed by Sinn Fein, argued for a campaign based on mass meetings and demonstrations with blockading and other forms of direct action being seen as measures of last resort. The basis for this view was that the decisive battle would be the local elections of summer 2004 where anti-bin tax candidates could make a breakthrough based on the work done over the years in the different localities. This position was somewhat undermined by the fact that in certain areas where the Socialist Workers Party claimed to be organising the campaign, only shadow campaigns, lacking a popular base, existed. The perception was that they had adopted this position because they were unable to deliver the goods when it came to mass direct action. There was a degree of truth to this perception because the majority of Socialist Workers Party activists are of middle class origin, many of them students who had no real connection with working class communities, though individual members, such as the jailed activist Brid Smith, had played an important role in limited number of areas. Sinn Fein on the other hand had failed to play any significant role outside of Finglas and seemed to view the campaign as an adjunct to their target of making a major breakthrough in the local elections.
On the other hand the Socialist Party and three smaller left groups active in the campaign on the north side of the city (Working Class Action, the Workers Solidarity Movement and the Irish Socialist Network) advocated mass direct action, especially after the jailing of the activists. In areas dominated by these forces frequent blockades of trucks and depots occurred. The areas where these groups were dominant tended to be the best organised and the most deeply rooted in the community. Public meetings attracted hundreds while dozens of people engaged in blockading action. There was little patience from this wing of the campaign for the more cautious, election orientated strategy. There was, however, a certain degree of suspicion amongst the smaller groupings that the Socialist Party saw the campaign as their property, to be led from above and switched on and off as it suited.
The union response
Union bosses were posed with a huge dilemma by this battle. There was a strong pressure from the rank and file to back the bin tax campaign, especially after the jailing of Joe, Clare and the other activists. It was hard to oppose this pressure given that it was the official policy of most unions to oppose all service charges. This was compounded by a strong desire by the bin men themselves to show solidarity with their friends and neighbours. On the other hand the bureaucrats were wedded to social partnership and wanted to avoid conflict with the authorities at all costs. They also saw the danger to the Labour Party of popular mobilisation led by the far left.
The only leading trade unionist backing the bin tax campaign was Mick O Reilly of the ATGWU who, although a member of the Labour Party, is a widely respected leftist. The other source of support was the traditionally radical Dublin Council of Trade Unions which organised a mass demonstration to oppose the imprisonment of the activists.
While mouthing platitudes favourable to the campaign, the leaders of the main unions organising bin workers, SIPTU and IMPACT, worked hard behind the scenes with management to ensure the success of the non-collection against the wishes of the workers themselves. At some stages these tensions bubbled to the surface, with truck drivers refusing to drive out of depots blockaded by activists despite shop stewards and union officials pressurising them to do so. By far the worst intervention was that of David Begg, the leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. While the Socialist Party politicians languished in jail, he publicly attacked the campaign and its leaders. Of course this received maximum publicity in the media with every attempt made to portray the anti-bin tax campaign as crafty loony left ploy to dupe the gullible working class.
Both sides are now holding their fire, preparing for the next round. The establishment politicians want to avoid a rerun of the bitter conflict of last autumn at least until after the summer elections. They know that another round of blockades and arrests would galvanise working class communities and boost support for Sinn Fein and far left candidates. Undoubtedly they are leaning on local authority managers to hold back until the elections are over. This may not be enough to rein in the bureaucrats. The Dublin City Manager secured a 23% increase in the bin tax in December with the support of the right wing parties and the Greens on the City Council. There are plans in the offing to introduce the tag system to replace the yearly bill in the City Council and South Dublin Council areas as a prelude to enforcing non-collection. The possibility exists that the campaign may enter a decisive phase before the elections.
With most political forces involved in the campaign concentrating to a greater or lesser degree on electoral work there is a danger that the campaign may degenerate. Activists may put all their energy into canvassing and leafleting, neglecting to continue the grassroots organising needed to sustain the struggle against the bin tax. The more cautious elements in the alliance may use the run up to the elections to argue against direct action on the basis that any sort of illegal action will damage the electoral prospects of candidates. The predominant tendency at the moment seems to have swung towards an over-concentration on the importance of the local elections.