Anti-bin tax campaign is just the opening shot for Higgins

Irish Times report, Monday 20th october 2003.
Despite a month in Mountjoy Prison, Socialist Party TD, Mr Joe Higgins, is ready to do it again, writes Mark Hennessy, Political Correspondent

Even after a month in Mountjoy Prison, Socialist Party TD Mr Joe Higgins could not escape the long arm of the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell.

Nearly 400 relatives, friends and supporters gathered in the Gresham Hotel on Saturday evening to welcome Mr Higgins and colleague Cllr Clare Daly.

However, the little matter of the Intoxicating Liquor Act had to be dealt with first. "We have a little problem with the management and the law," said Ms Fiona O'Loughlin.

"There are under-18s who want to attend the meeting. So the bar has to close. Otherwise they can't attend. And that wouldn't be fair," she said.

The bar shutters came down. The pints were supped. None complained. No greater sacrifice can a man make on a Saturday night than to lay down his pint for the cause.

It was that sort of evening, as chants of "Bin Tax: We won't pay" mixed with talk of prison bars and walls, sacrifice and "the struggle of the working class".

However, the bin campaign, reviled in many areas though with strong pockets of support, is but the opening shots in the Socialist Party's latest assault on capitalism's citadel.

The real target is next year's local elections. Following acres of newsprint, Ms Daly and Fingal County Council colleague Ms Ruth Coppinger have already done much to secure their re-election.

However, the Socialist Party is now confident it can win elsewhere, particularly in the Finglas and Santry wards in the Dublin North West Dáil constituency.

Indeed, the ambitions do not stop there. In the 2002 general election, Ms Daly won more than 5,000 first preferences and could lay claim to a seat next time, particularly given the difficulties of Fianna Fáil TD Mr G.V. Wright.

Relieved to be a free man once more, Mr Higgins condemned the welter of criticism from the Opposition, media and others.

"My first thought is for the comrades I left behind in Mountjoy. There are very courageous men from Finglas on one side of the wall and women on the other. And it is a very, very big wall."

Having entered Mountjoy convinced of his righteousness, the Dublin West TD has come out armed with facts gleaned from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Just 15 per cent of all waste in 2001 came from households. So why do the latest Department of the Environment television advertisements concentrate solely upon them, he asked.

"Judging by that advert, one would think that the householder was the key component of the waste crisis and was responsible for an enormous apocalyptic disaster."

However, there is clearly a concern within the Socialist Party it has allowed itself to be painted as environmentally unfriendly.

Proper recycling services could allow householders to do better: "Incredibly, 279,000 tonnes of paper goes to landfill. So does 72 per cent of glass.

"If the Government had been serious over the last 6½ years they could have put into every local authority the basic infrastructure.

"Then there would be no excuse for householders," he said, because local by-laws could forbid paper or glass being put into rubbish bins.

"That would reduce the waste going into landfill by 37 per cent. Why has that not been instituted? Because we have a Government that is absolutely fraudulent.

"It is trying to throw waste in the eyes of the people to cover up for their own failures. We need to shout that from the rooftops," Mr Higgins declared to loud cheers.

The Government's actions are part of "a neo-liberal agenda" to privatise public services and to replace cuts in national taxation with increased local charges. Despite his imprisonment, the campaign is morally justifiable, he claimed.

"Whose law is it? It is Fianna Fáil law? It is Progressive Democrat law? It is not working-class law.

"It is law enacted for the privileged, for the bankers, for the Ansbacher men. One of the benefits from this campaign will be that people will see the rottenness of our society.

"Within nine days of this campaign we had people in jail. It's years since Ansbacher criminals were exposed. Not a single one has even been to court.

"It is years since the depth of corruption amongst Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael was exposed. Not a single one has been in front of a court."

Bankers, he said, have orchestrated a €1 billion fraud on the Exchequer.

"Not one is in front of a court of law, while working-class people are languishing in Mountjoy and Cloverhill."

The jailings and the campaign itself are now motivating people, Cllr Clare Daly told the audience. "We are at the beginning of change in this country.

"It is because we have the ability to lead that they fear us. It isn't easy for them to deal with us," said Ms Daly, who was separated from her 3½-year-old daughter during her term in jail.

Blaming large elements of the media for vilifying the protesters, the Fingal councillor said: "We are confident about the ability of ordinary people to see through the slander."

Many of the protesters still in jail had not been fully mobilised before they were sentenced. "They went into court. They know how badly the judge treated people in there.

"They felt that they had to make a stand. You should see them now. They are experts in government, in law, in the media," she told cheering supporters.

Condemning the Opposition for supporting the charges, she singled out Fine Gael, who sent a small group to protest outside the Gresham Hotel.

Background reports and other news on the Bin Charges campaign.