Big Phil Puts the Boot In
E3.3m Slashed by Minister for Not Paying Household Charge

Environment Minister ‘Big Phil’ Hogan has slashed E3.3 million Euro from County Tipperary as punishment for partial non-payment of the 100 Euro Household Charge, The Tipperary Star can reveal.

Environment Minister ‘Big Phil’ Hogan has slashed E3.3 million Euro from County Tipperary as punishment for partial non-payment of the 100 Euro Household Charge, The Tipperary Star can reveal.

By Noel Dundon

Environment Minister ‘Big Phil’ Hogan has slashed E3.3 million Euro from County Tipperary as punishment for partial non-payment of the 100 Euro Household Charge, The Tipperary Star can reveal.

The Fine Gael Minister was lambasted at special meetings of the North and South Tipperary County Councils this week for his “bully boy tactics” and only just survived a motion of no confidence in him, after North Mayor Michael O’Meara had to use his casting vote to save his skin.

E1.5 m is being cut from North Tipperary with 38% of eligible households having not paid the charge, while South Tipp is faring worse with E1.8m to be taken off the local authority in lieu of a 42% non-payment liability. The average for Tipp as a whole is 40% non compliance.. (See page 14 for full story on South Tipp.)

In North Tipp, cries of ‘dirty tricks’ reverberated throughout the chamber as councillors claimed that the Mayor had delayed the taking of the vote until Councillor Phyll Bugler arrived on the scene to force a 9/9 voting stalemate - the Mayor had, controvertially, adjourned the meeting for five minutes, which turned out to be closer to half an hour. Cllr Bugler later informed the press that she had been on council business and was delayed en-route to the meeting - a claim which was described as “bulls**t” by a Fianna Fail member.

This was one of the most acrimonious meetings of the council in a long time and it descended into a complete farce as the Mayor and officials struggled to contain and control proceedings. Shouts of “Ballymagash” were heard as three separate proposals came from the floor - one a vote of no confidence in the Minister from Fianna Fail; a second seeking a meeting with the same Minister, also from Fianna Fail; and a third from Fine Gael calling on people in the county who have not paid the household charge, to do so.

The crucial message though is that North Tipperary County Council is down 1.5 million Euro and is being forced to cut services, freeze grants to local communities, the disabled and households.

County Manager Mr Joe MacGrath informed members that the Department of the Environment, which is headed up by Minister Hogan, notified the council of a 10.5% reduction in the Local Government Fund - a crippling reduction which has a double affect coming, as it did, half way through the year.

The North Tipp budget was to be balanced on a 14.26 million Euro basis for the year, but that figure has now been thrown into disarray with the quarterly payment from the department having been reduced by 350,000 Euro.

“The final amout to be paid to us will be reviewed at the end of the final quarter of the year and the indications are that if the household charge collection rate improves, the funds we receive will also improve,” said Mr MacGrath who added that any reduction in the fund has significant implications for the capacity of the council to provide services.

North Tipperary has the ninth highest payment rate in the country with 62% having paid the Household Charge, according to the Manager - this figure is disputed though with Cllr Seamie Morris claiming that 62% have registered for it, but many of these would be exempt from actually paying the charge.

“We have done everything possible at local level to secure the Household Charge as best we can. This now has very serious consequences for the 2012 budget and as of from today, I do not know for certain what level the Local Government Fund will be for 2012, and I have to respond to that. I have been instructed by the department to adjust spending accordingly and that there must be a balanced budget at the end of the year. I do not want a situation to prevail where the two thirds who have paid the Household Charge are being held to ransom by the other other. However, we have to now do a line-by-line examination of our budget and having already incurred about half of the budget for the year, it is going to be an extraordinary challenge for us now to meet the demands being put on us by the these reductions,” said Mr MacGrath who pointed out that essential emergency services will not be affected, nor will capital projects.

750 households across the county have already received letters in relation to the non-payment of the Household Charge and the remainder will follow in due course. However, there is no proposal at the present time to call to the doors of those who have not paid, the Manager said.

Accusation and counter-accusation flew across the chamber floor as tempers became frayed and voices were raised. The Mayor was forced on a number of occasions to ring the bell to bring the chamber to order, but his efforts were in vain as the chaos continued for quite some time.

Interestingly, when it came to the vote calling on all eligible households to pay the charge, there were only three against - Cllrs Seamie Morris (SF), Billy Clancy (Ind) and John Hogan (FF) who broke party lines. All other FF members abstained.

The tone and content of the meeting has certainly damaged morale within the council and has resulted in a deterioration of relations amongst members. Mayor O’Meara will have a big task to mend bridges and get over this one.