Ireland Republic: Free the bin tax two – Joe Higgins infuriated over ICTU leader “Stab in the back”

Today Joe Higgins expressed his frustration at being gagged but told a Socialist Party colleague Mick Barry who visited him in Mountjoy that he was "infuriated" over the attack, which ICTU General Secretary David Begg made on the Anti Bin Tax Campaign.

Free the bin tax two.

Below we carry a statement from the office of Joe Higgins TD reacting to the scandalous attack by the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, David Begg, against Joe Higgins and councillor Clare Daly who have been imprisoned for resisting the bin tax in Dublin. The reply is followed by an Irish Times report of Begg’s comments.

Joe Higgins infuriated over ICTU leader Begg’s "Stab in the back"

From the office of Joe Higgins TD

(Prison rules do not allow Socialist Party T.D. Joe Higgins to speak to the media or issue Press Statements.)

He said that Mr Begg’s statement was a "deliberate stab in the back to the hundreds of thousands of working people and their families in the Greater Dublin area who are demanding the immediate suspension of the non-collection of refuse bins from householders boycotting the bin tax and the abolition of the tax in favour of proper funding of local authority services from the taxes workers pay Government."

"Who is Mr. Begg representing?" Joe Higgins asked. "The big majority of the trade union membership affiliated to I.C.T.U. have through their National Conferences adopted a clear policy of opposition to double taxation in the form of local taxes. So Mr. Begg’s attack is expressing his view and not that of the membership he is supposed to represent."

Joe Higgins said it was "an incredible situation that not only is the Anti Bin Tax Campaign under attack from the Government, and from leading members of the so-called Opposition in the Dáil but now the leadership of the trade union movement, flying in the face of its membership is prepared to be a mudguard for the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government."´

Joe Higgins told his visitor "Is it any wonder that with the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Union in its pockets, this Government can feel free to give massive tax breaks to big business while piling on a plethora of stealth taxes on ordinary working people; can abolish the first time house buyers grants while allowing obscene profiteering in the housing market create endless misery for the scores of thousands now priced out of a home".

Joe Higgins said that Mr. Begg tried to raise the issue of proper funding for local authorities but his attack on those fighting the bin tax means the Government has no problem carrying on hitting the usual suspects for taxation.

Joe Higgins accused Mr. Begg of "gross dishonesty" in alleging that the Anti Bin Tax Campaign might cause privatisation of the bin collection services in Dublin.

"The reality is that the dozens of local authorities which have privatised domestic refuse collection did so after they had forced a bin tax regime and browbeat households into compliance."

"In any case Mr. Begg has no moral authority to speak as an anti privatisation champion having been himself a willing tool in the preparation of Telecom Eireann, a vital national asset, for privatisation a scheme which burned thousands of small people conned into purchasing shares.

Joe Higgins accused Mr. Begg of feebly attempting to justify the bin tax in environmental grounds. "Mr. Begg falls for the line that the bin tax is a serious environmental policy. In fact, it is a substitute for a policy and in reality a crude revenue raising measure.

Finally, Joe Higgins asked, "after 16 years of so called partnership between trade union representatives, government and employers, it would seem that Mr. Begg doesn’t remember who he is supposed to defend or represent. If he couldn’t bring himself to articulate the feeling of the majority of trade union membership in opposition to the bin tax, he should have chosen a shamed silence over open treachery".

ICTU condemns anti-bin charges campaign

Irish Times 25/09/2003

Calls for the trade union movement to support the anti-bin charges campaign were firmly rejected yesterday by the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Mr David Begg. Chris Dooley and Joe Humphreys report.

In a strongly worded condemnation of the campaign, Mr Begg said it could lead to privatisation of refuse collection services and a loss of jobs. He also urged the jailed Socialist Party politicians, Mr Joe Higgins TD and Cllr Clare Daly, to purge their contempt of the High Court and "cool things down".

"They are wrong to be leading ordinary working people into a cul de sac of imprisonment in pursuit of a political objective."

His comments came amid threats of a further escalation of protests after nine campaigners walked free from the High Court yesterday when a judge decided not to fine or jail them for alleged contempt of court.

Mr Justice Dan Herbert said he would make no order against them as he had sufficient doubt as to whether or not they realised they were actually committing a contempt of court when they were arrested on Tuesday during protests against bin charges. The nine were part of a group of 11 who had been detained by gardaí and brought to court on foot of an order directing the Garda Commissioner to arrest anyone who, having knowledge of the existence of court restraints, continued to impede Fingal County Council’s waste collection service.

Fingal Anti-Bin Tax Campaign described the ruling as a victory for protesters, and pledged further disruption to services in the coming days. Fingal County Council said gardaí would continue to enforce an order prohibiting such protests.

Shop stewards of one union, the TEEU, which represents maintenance workers with local authorities, last night called on the Dublin Council of Trade Unions to hold an emergency meeting to discuss what action should be taken.

Mr Begg said trade unions were concerned about "the obvious inconsistency in the treatment of ordinary working people by comparison to the rich and powerful whose activities have come to public notice in recent years".

But he said the anti-bin charge campaign did not have the support of the ICTU. Congress, he said, "strongly objects to union members who are council employees being obstructed in the course of their work and householders being inconvenienced and exposed to health hazards as a result of uncollected rubbish. It believes that the campaign may ultimately lead to privatisation of bin collections and a potential loss of jobs."

Political activists like Mr Higgins and Ms Daly had a responsibility to calm the situation, he said. "Having raised the bin charges issue to national prominence, they should purge their contempt and urge their supporters to do likewise."

The Socialist Party politicians were jailed for a month last Friday for defying an injunction prohibiting them from obstructing refuse collections in Dublin.Campaign spokeswoman Ms Ruth Coppinger criticised Mr Begg’s remarks, saying the trade union movement should back up its "official position against the bin charges" with "appropriate action".

The Socialist Party councillor urged trade unions to organise work stoppages to demand the release of Mr Higgins and Ms Daly.

The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Mr O’Donoghue, accused the Opposition of "Sinn Féin-speak". Labour Party TD Mr Eamon Gilmore replied that the Minister "must be suffering from sunstroke".

In the US, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said Mr Higgins was protesting about "having to pay €5 a week for a tag so that refuse can be collected every week. If you think that’s too high, check the price in other countries."

© The Irish Times

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September 2003