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Will we get an invoice? Will we f***?

Story by Paul Murphy

Wednesday, 4th April, 2012 4:59pm

Will we get an invoice? Will we f***?

Someone of Minister Phil Hogan's physical stature could easily attract the soubriquet "Big".

And when it is appended, it gives the bearer a physical, if not necessarily an intellectual aura. It conjures up a picture of someone who is a "can do" person, not to mention a formidable opponent in verbal or physical exchanges.

That image, whether it is one cherished by the minister himself who as "Bruiser Hogan" saw off a determined attempted coup against Enda Kenny by a sizeable section of his own party, or a media invention, has been severely dented in the last couple of weeks of the household charge campaign. When the honey-toned Lucinda Creightons, Fergus O'Dowds and Regina Dohertys of this world are sent to the radio stations to put over the message that this is an insignificant and painless new tax, you know Big Phil is in trouble.

His own use of language has been confrontational and uncompromising. With three weeks to go to the deadline for payment of the charge, Mr Hogan warned that there would be no escape for people dodging the charge. He warned that people should think "long and hard" about refusing to pay before the 31st March deadline and should not be "duped" by campaigners against it. "This particular household charge will not go away. I want to send that message very clearly. The charge will apply for whatever length of time is takes, until such time as they discharge that debt to the State", he said.

And there was more. People would not be able to sell or transfer ownership of their houses unless they paid the household charge to their local authority. "They will pay penalties and interest on top of their household charge, in addition to having it attached to their dwelling, if they refuse". He said agreements were being put in place with electricity companies to get the names and addresses of householders to find out if they have paid.

"We will be working with those electricity networks in particular to ensure we have the proper information in order to bring people to court in respect of this particular charge at the appropriate time", he said.

A small history lesson is appropriate here. The abolition of household rates, which were meant to pay for local services, was promised by the Fianna Fail Party along with motor tax in the run-up to the 1977 General Election. It certainly worked for that party and it swept to power on a wave of popularity, with a 20-seat majority, and the Fine Gael-Labour Government swept aside.

Jack Lynch was so popular that it is argued now that the package of sweeteners might not have been needed. That's for the historians.

The issue here is that whether it was good or bad for the country, the Irish people have largely got out of the habit of paying local charges or rates. They needed to be persuaded and educated into the need for local charges. Householders needed to be educated into "real politics", that the IMF and the EU are driving our bus and we have little or no control over our financial situation because of the country's indebtedness.

The household charge policy needed to be "sold" to an understandably sceptical and war-weary public. They've had it up to here with unemployment, the chicanery of the banking and half the political establishment, they're fed up with the situation. They needed a lot more persuasion from their political masters and mistresses than was on view during the household charge campaign.

In the early part of the campaign a journalistic colleague approached me and told me that his elderly mother was worried about the household charge and how it was going to be paid. He asked if she would be getting an invoice. I was tempted to give him the Michael Bailey reply. (On their way to Minister Ray Burke's house in June 1989 with €80,000 in two envelopes, tribunal witness James Gogarty asked builder Michael Bailey if they would be getting a receipt. "Will we f***" was the reply). I resisted the temptation and instead gave him a Meath County Council press release giving details about how payment could be made.

One minister in the Government appears to have got the message about people's expectations when it came to paying charges. Brendan Howlin said there was a tradition that people like to get a bill so they know what is owed and how to pay it.

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