Ireland: Mass movement against household tax and austerity

Widespread opposition to new tax as registration deadline passes

Cillian Gillespie and Matt Waine, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Dublin
We're not paying the household tax

Saturday 31 March was the deadline set by the Irish government for 1.86 million households in the south of Ireland to register for their new household tax. The €100 tax is an interim charge before the introduction of new property and water taxes in 2013 and 2014.

People were told that if they did not register and pay by the deadline they would face penalties, the threat of court appearances and substantial fines of up to €2,500 and €100 for every day the tax is not paid. In an act of defiance over one million households (59%) have not registered.

On 31 March, an estimated 14,000 people took to the streets of Dublin to protest at the Ard Fheis (national conference) of main coalition government party, Fine Gael. “Fine Gael you got it wrong, look around we are a million strong!” was the main chant heard during the protest, which was organised by the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT).

The protest also reflected broader anger and disgust in society at the enormous austerity cuts implemented over the last four years in Ireland, while billions have been handed over to billionaire bondholders.

Socialist Party members got an excellent response to our ideas during the protest. We sold around 500 copies of the [Irish] Socialist newspaper and distributed thousands of leaflets. Many people expressed interest in joining the Socialist Party during the march.


On the previous Saturday, over 3,000 activists and supporters of the CAHWT packed into the National Stadium, Dublin, for a national indoor protest rally and assembly. They travelled, from early morning in many cases, from every corner of the country and arrived on coaches emblazoned with campaign flags, banners and posters.

15 minutes before the event was due to start, the arena was packed. Outside in the car park, several hundred more people crowded round the doors listening to the PA system.

The success of both the rally and the 31 March street protest and, more importantly, the stand taken by over one million working people in opposition to the household tax, was, in large part, due to 12 weeks of intensive campaigning work by hundreds and thousands of CAHWT activists, which included many members of the Socialist Party.

Over 25,000 have attended campaign meetings since the beginning of January, which took place in every county. Many of these meetings were addressed by Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, Socialist Party TDs [members of the Irish Parliament].

Ironically a government minister, Fergus O’Dowd, inadvertently paid tribute to the role played by the campaign. When challenged on a radio programme that the government had not given enough information about the new tax, O’Dowd rejected that idea by stating: “There’s a national campaign against the charge. There are posters up in every town. I see them everywhere I go. There are public meetings being held”!


At national meetings of CAHWT, in early January, Socialist Party members were instrumental in outlining the non-payment against the government’s new tax during the run-up to the registration deadline. This included making sure the campaign was organised in every part of the country.

Socialist Party members played a key role in the ‘outreach committee’ of the campaign. This assisted organising very successful meetings from which many people volunteered to become organisers of the campaign in their counties.

The slogans that Socialist Party members advocated for the campaign were also unanimously accepted. The slogan – ‘Don’t register! Don’t Pay! Build mass non-registration by St Patrick’s Day!’ [17 March] – appeared on thousands of posters.

By 17 March, 85% of the liable population had not registered for the charge. This indicated a mood of opposition to the tax and support for the idea of mass non-registration. However, given the fear of many people concerning threats of fines and court appearances, it was always inevitable that the numbers of those registering would rise steadily in the final days before the deadline. But this does not indicate support for the tax.

It is important that the campaign has a dialogue with those householders who have registered and tries to win them to campaign for mass non-payment.

The CAHWT campaign has given an organised expression to the anger against austerity that is accumulating under the surface of society. There is a growing feeling among working class people that we cannot live like this anymore. There is also growing anger at the inequalities in society and a feeling of injustice at the impact of the crisis.

Battle lines

The battle lines over the household charge have been drawn. The campaign must prepare for the likelihood of working class people being brought to court. We need to strengthen the campaign in working class communities in the coming weeks and months. It seems the government will have little choice but to go down this road.

We need to also engage in a political battle against the government. This includes answering the threats to use mass non-payment of the household tax as a disgraceful pretext to justify cuts to local services.

A movement against austerity needs to be stepped up. CAHWT activists should be encouraged to build opposition to the government’s austerity treaty ahead of May’s EU referendum.

There is a growing acceptance in society that austerity is only deepening and worsening the economic crisis that began several years ago.

The top 300 richest people in Ireland have seen their wealth rise by around €12 billion between 2009 and 2011. The campaign should step up its arguments for a wealth tax of these people to pay for our services.

There is also a necessity to bring the key parts of the economy into democratic public ownership. This would entail democratic planning and management of the country’s resources, to allow the huge development of infrastructure and industry and the big development of the health, education and so on.

If the CAHWT can build on its first success, it can deliver a real blow to the programme of austerity in Ireland and throughout Europe.

The household tax protest rally coincided with the release of the Mahon Tribunal report, which investigated corruption in planning development. Its findings clearly exposed the rotten and corrupt relationship between Ireland’s main pro-big business political parties and super-rich property developers.

This undoubtedly added to mood of anger among working class people. The rotten relationship between the politicians and big business was a key factor in the crashing of the Irish economy and the massive and deeply unpopular austerity cuts that followed.

The report says Bertie Ahern – a former Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and leader of Fianna Fail (traditionally one of Ireland’s biggest capitalist parties) failed to provide any credible explanation as to where he received over €200,000 from between 1993 and 1995. The day after the rally, Ahern was forced to resign from Fianna Fail, before his imminent expulsion from the party he led for 14 years.

“On a recent trip back to my home city of Dublin I was shocked by the sight of the growing levels of poverty that are all around.

The young are leaving Ireland in their droves, rather than languish in absolute poverty in their home country. 76,300 left the shores to try and find a better life in 2011. This year a further 75,000 are expected to emigrate. Every family in Ireland knows that the country has reared a lost generation of workers and graduates who have had little choice than to leave.

Focus Ireland, the homeless charity, has said the numbers seeking assistance have increased by 20% while its funding has been cut by 10%.

It is an outrage that while the most vulnerable suffer, the fat cat neoliberals continue to suck the life out of society. The Irish government continues to enjoy all the perks of the elite even though the current situation is unsustainable for so many.

The dark days of the 1980s hang over my country again and with the thieves and their cronies sitting pretty in the Dáil little will change unless and until we have a socialist government that will stand up for the people.”

Fiona Joyce, Bristol