Socialist Voice (Feb 03)

Joe Higgins Column - A Government of Cynicism

RECENTLY, DURING the Order of Business in the Dáil, I asked Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, "Could you tell us when the Bill which proposes to give the Managers of local authorities power to set up incinerators anywhere they will, charge any amount they want in bin taxes to householders and which provides for the bullying of householders who boycott this tax come before this Dail for debate?"

The Ceann Comhairle (chair) of the Dáil asked, "Which Bill are you referring to Deputy?". When I replied, I referred to the ironically named Protection of the Environment Bill 2003. Even some of the right wing members of the Dáil could see the irony.

The growing arrogance of this Fianna Fail/ Progressive Democrat government is graphically illustrated in this proposed legislation. It brushes aside in the most brusque fashion the concerns of ordinary householders and PAYE workers about the growing attack on their living standards by an array of charges for services and hidden taxes. None more so than the bin tax which is now up to €500 per year in at least one local authority area. The bill is also a huge attack on the already massively flawed local democracy that exists in this State.

The Bill illustrates the acute political cynicism of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats. They were terrified of the prospect of fighting the Local Election campaign in June of next year against a background of massive opposition to the bin tax; of facing a wall of candidates from left wing parties and community organisations fighting for the abolition of that tax and for a real and meaningful waste management policy.

They hope that by giving the County and City Managers the exclusive authority to set the level of the bin tax, they will exonerate their own members from being complicit in bringing them in. The scenario is therefore set for virtually all the Fianna Fail and Progressive Democrat Councillors at the Local Elections being in a position to portray themselves as anti-bin tax and express sham outrage at the undoubted high levels that will have been set by then by many County and City Managers.

A huge campaign can be mounted against the Bill. It can become a focal point for working class people, PAYE workers in particular and pensioners around the country to express their anger at the cynical policy of this government. A government that cuts taxes for the big corporations by massive amounts while at the same time allowing a plethora of charges and stealth taxes - in reality a parallel tier of local taxation - to be relentlessly built up.

'Terrorist' Bill

Another significant piece of legislation that has come before the dail recently is the criminal justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill 2002 and which didn't get huge publicity. However, this is very sinister legislation, extending as it does the range of repressive laws already at the disposal of the establishment to be misused as it suits.

In this Bill, which is part of the battery of repressive legislation rushed in after the September 11th atrocities and used that attack as an excuse, "Terrorist activity" is defined in a way that is alarming for socialists. terrorist activity is defined as an act that is committed with the intention of: (1) "seriously imtimidating a population"; (2) "unduly compelling a Governemnt or an international organisation to perform or abstain from performing an act" or (3) "seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a state or an international organisation".

This incredible definition could include within it any radical organisation struggling for a new society based on democratic socialism or the rapidly growing anti-globalisation movement.

While the government would not dare use such legislation at the present time against socialists or the anti globalisation movement, in the event that it was convenient to do so at a future time, it would not hesitate. For this reason, we have to alert these organisations and indeed anyone who is interested in civil liberties about the dangers of this type of legislation and to fight against it.

To read other articles by Joe in his column, go here.
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