From Socialist Voice, March 2005

Well, here’s another nice mess . . .

“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” These were the words of the comic film character Oliver Hardy to his partner, Stan Laurel, when things went wrong. The same words could easily be transferred to Cork—the “European City of Culture,” 2005.
     The city manager, Joe Gavin, has decided to use his executive powers to charge each householder €250 to have a sticker placed on their rubbish bin. Then each time the bin is collected it will only be done if you have a €5 bin tag attached. So, what used to be a city service, paid for by our taxes, has now become an additional levy of €510; and there is no guarantee that these levies will not increase further year by year.
      The response to the unelected city manager has been predictable. Some citizens have decided to dump their rubbish indiscriminately, thus turning the City of Culture into the City of Rubbish.
      Though the city manager has not said as much, his policy position is in fact a new form of taxation. He has adopted the mantra that “the polluter must pay.” However, it is important to point out that the citizens of Cork are not the polluters. We do not ask for unnecessary wrappings on each and every purchase that we buy. It may be good for the Smurfit Group to ensure that a cardboard coffin surrounds every packet of corn flakes, but this action makes us, the citizen and consumer, the polluted rather than the polluter.
      City and county managers all over the country have a problem with refuse; and we all agree that to reduce, reuse and recycle is the way forward. However, we pay our taxes to ensure that we have services for water, refuse, libraries, fire brigades, and everything else that falls into the area of responsibility of local authorities. We do not wish to pay these taxes on the double.
      The matter becomes even more serious for trade union members. Since 1987 trade unionists have been part of “partnership” agreements. These agreements see modest pay rises being accepted in return for a fairer taxation system and proper public services. When our overcentralised government, which never had so much money, does not supply enough cash resources to local authorities to fund services, the alternative put forward is to levy the cost of services on the community. This is adding tax to workers. Some partnership!
      We have resistance to these policies. The principal opponent is the group Householders Against Service Charges, which has seen its members imprisoned on the service charges issue on a number of occasions in the past. This group is now being injected with a new lease of life and is reorganising at local level and with the support of our half dozen more progressive city councillors. However, Joe Gavin, the Cork city manager, with executive powers and answerable to nobody, is convinced that he is in control of the situation.
      It is inevitable that new and more imaginative forms of resistance to the double tax of service charges will emerge from this class struggle. It is also worth noting that local TDs are becoming uncomfortable. After all, it is the TDs, and particularly government TDs, who should ensure that enough money finds its way to local government. These are the same TDs who denied us the right to directly elect our city and county mayors and who further enhanced the powers of the unelected city and county managers.
      In the interim, the rubbish will continue to be dumped, and the city authorities will try to sift through the refuse hoping to find a name on an envelope in order to initiate a prosecution and hold to ridicule some anti-social elements. Meanwhile the Capital of Culture bathes in its own sea of squalor, the creation of the unelected city manager, Joe Gavin. Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve got us into—Joe!


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