Heard of the Republic’s new Household Charge? Well few other issues demonstrate the mess Irish democracy finds itself in than the ‘quick, get it out the door’ re-imposition of a domestic rate that’s not quite a domestic rate.
It’s a flat rate tax, and will cost just €100 this year. But with a week to go before it’s due there is barely concealed panic in government over the poor payment rate. The Minister behind its implementation Phil Hogan sent his junior, a jittery Fergus O’Dowd in to bat on Friday on the Late Late Show. His message was, you have to pay it to keep the parks going.
With Ming Flanagan on the same show pointing out just how unaccountable local government is in the Republic (even as Mayor of Roscommon he was told by one of ‘his’ director of finance to stop asking questions on particular financial matters) to rapturous applause.
To say the very least, Mr O’Dowd had what might euphemistically be called an uphill battle.
Then yesterday at lunch time, Labour’s Joan Burton apparently broke ranks, suggesting that Saturday’s deadline for payment of the Charge, (some bright spark at the Indo has just calculated they need 9000 payments an hour to make that target) was ambitious. Whilst incontrovertibly true, she was blamed for mixing the government’s messages.
Whilst Hogan is denying there is a problem, two problems remain outstanding. Knowing with any certainty who owes and who doesn’t (you have to work that out for yourself). And having a convenient place to pay.
In the case of the former, the government is belatedly moving new protocols with the data commission to allow various government agencies to share data. Though, at this late stage it can only have a punitive use in chasing up non payers, rather than encouraging people to pay.
On the second, it seems the astonishment of the Postmaster’s Union last week may have been based on the assumption that An Post had already presented a cheap solution direct payment to Mr Hogan’s department three months ago. The Minister claims only to have heard about this two weeks ago.
In fact it can be paid in a number of ways here. But the measure is as much a dropped government ball as an occasion for a workers revolution (as it is being billed by some). The figure either way is not large.
It will only raise €160 million (€10 million less than the €170 extracted from the national budget). And the charge itself is the equivalent of only about £67 a year. Over and above that, it is only chargeable to home owners and landlords (who will in many cases seek to pass on the charge in rent rises).
In short, it’s a mess. Morally as well as politically. It’s a pretty safe bet that you will get away with non payment. Even if those non payers will be taking the risk that the government does not follow through and force through cuts on local government.
As Nuala O’Faolain noted back in 1988, in Ireland:
people are loyal to their families and loving to their families and sometimes to their mates. But that’s about it. I think if there wasn’t PAYE I don’t think anyone would pay taxes.
Don’t be expecting the emergence of the new Sweden of the western archipelago any time soon…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty