In 1880, Irish tenants turned their backs on their landlord’s rent collector and gave birth to the verb “to boycott.” This spring, the Irish are at it again, but this time it’s property owners who are refusing to pay and their government that’s collecting.
Saturday at midnight was the deadline for Irish property owners to register to pay a new one hundred Euro property tax. It’s a flat fee, introduced this year as part of a package of taxes and cuts negotiated by the government in its $90 bailout deal with the IMF and the European Union.
To beleaguered property-tax payers elsewhere, an annual fee worth roughly $133 may not sound like a fortune but the Irish have already seen €20 billion worth of austerity measures since the crash of 2008; they’re facing billions more cuts and tax hikes, and they’re keenly aware that registering for the charge paves the way for the introduction of an annual property tax.
“Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay” declared the banners at a rally Saturday. Property taxes themselves aren’t themselves reactionary, one unemployed Dubliner fumed to me Friday, but this charge treats all homeowners alike. What really gets protestors riled up is that while unemployment benefits, health care and education are being slashed, speculators are being paid back – full value – on risky bets. Reversing a campaign pledge, the Fine Gael/Labor Coalition government announced a €717m repayment to unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders, last fall. Another €1.25 billion was repaid this January.
One Irish senator was ruled out of order when he attempted to read a list of Anglo-Irish Bank bondholders into the record in 2010. If those enjoying the windfall now resemble the investors who held the bonds in the state-owned bank then, they’re private banks and investment firms with political clout among them, Goldman Sachs Asset Management which reported a fourth-quarter profit of about $1 billion at the end of last year. Its next returns come out next week.
Just 805,500 of Ireland’s roughly 1.6 million households registered by the deadline. Is the government really going to pack the courts with homeowners, when not a single banker or speculator’s been brought to justice? That’s what Marie Mulholland, an unemployed labor and community organizer in Dublin was asking this weekend. “The mood here is miserable. Angry and fed up.” On the other hand, the household charge has strengthened the independent/socialist alliance in parliament, the United Left Alliance, which has five seats in the Dail, was recently joined by the left-nationalist Sinn Fein in supporting the boycott.
It’s worth thinking about as Americans edge up to Tax Day this April. In the 1880s, the Irish Land League campaign against Captain Boycott and his boss left the landlord with no laborers to bring in the harvest, no shop willing to sell him goods, no laundry to take in his linens. What’s it called when a society ostracizes its government?
LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura.