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Over One Third to Boycott Household Charge

At the time of writing, more than 530,000 Irish citizens are intent on breaking the law. In an unprecedented act of defiance, a sizeable amount of Irish homeowners are planning on refraining from paying the newly-introduced Household Charge of €100. The results of a Paddy Power RedC poll conducted earlier this week indicate that 39 per cent of those eligible for the tax will not pay it.

The 61 per cent of those polled who intend to pay the charge – or have already done so – is primarily made up of older people, while almost half of those aged between 18 and 54 surveyed say they will refuse to pay.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, coalition supporters are the most likely to pay the charge; 77 per cent of Fine Gael voters and 26 per cent of Labour advocates declared they will have paid up by Saturday’s deadline. In stark contrast, 72 per cent of Sinn Féin supporters are adamant they will not pay, as are 43 per cent of Fianna Fáil voters and 44 per cent of Independent supporters. The latter takes in backers of the Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance – both political groups have been extremely vocal in their disapproval of the charge.

Of those questioned, 65 per cent said the tax was unfair, and 72 per cent said they would prefer a charge for use of services rather than a flat tax.

This latest survey will no doubt come as another blow to the under-fire government. Nevertheless, Taoiseach Enda Kenny remains optimistic that people will “measure up” and “obey the law”. He did concede, however, that: “The government can only function where it gets the cooperation and the support of the people.” Despite a late surge in those registering to pay the tax, the figure remains well shy of the 1.6 million homeowners who are liable. Even members of Kenny’s cabinet are dubious as to whether or not the majority of people will pay up before this weekend’s deadline. Transport Minister Leo Varadkar admitted it would probably take until the end of the year before those who have paid reached 80 to 90 per cent.

Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party is among those TDs who have urged house owners to boycott the tax in an act of mass revolt against austerity. He said: “This is the first time in the history of this State that such a massive movement of this kind has been crystallised in this way. It’s people power.” 

Thousands of demonstrators have attended nationwide protests against the charge, while others have called for an extension to the 31 March deadline – a suggestion Environment Minister Phil Hogan immediately shot down.

Active Retirement Ireland has said they have been inundated with calls from elderly people who are confused as to how to pay. The organisation’s CEO, Maureen Kavanagh, has criticised the government for sending out conflicting messages in relation to the charge. She said: “The problem has been around the information that was given out, particularly over the weekend, where Minister Hogan said that council officials may be calling door to door to collect the charge has led to fears of bogus callers.”

Problems with the Household Charge website have also been reported, with many people voicing their annoyance at having to make several attempts to pay the charge before it was processed correctly. Further frustration was evident when it came to light that those who live in estates with even a single property unfinished are exempt from the charge due to a loophole in the legislation. As the results of last year’s census released today show that there were 289,451 vacant dwellings in Ireland at that time, 14.5 per cent of all houses in the state, the figure of those who are ineligible to pay could be quite substantial.

On Monday Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes, said that if the government couldn’t raise the estimated €160 million from the household charge, they may have to look into raising personal taxation. Figures obtained today from the Department of the Environment show that fewer than one third of homes in Ireland have paid the charge. People who do not pay the tax will face financial penalties which will increase monthly.

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“Nothing To Fear” – Kenny on Potential Fiscal Referendum

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has today said that there is “nothing to fear from a referendum” on the proposed eurozone fiscal treaty.

Mr Kenny made the comments ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels at which the wording of such a document will be agreed. Irish government officials are said to be hopeful that the final text will enable the treaty to be implemented without the holding of a national referendum.

Mr Kenny said, “I’ve made this perfectly clear: that when the text is finalised, I will ask the Attorney General formally to present the government with the Attorney General’s response as to whether the agreed text – as finalised by the politicians – is in compliance with our constitution. If it is in compliance with Bunreacht na hÉireann, there is no need for a referendum. If it’s not, there will be a referendum.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland radio programme today, Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said she was hopeful the core of the draft treaty would remain unchanged. She also acknowledged that it would be difficult for Ireland to remain in the eurozone if voters rejected the treaty, saying “I think it would make it almost impossible for us to continue as part of the currency union because being part of a currency union means you have to abide by the rules.” On the same programme, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Trade Pádraig Mac Lochlainn accused the government of “running away from debate” by not holding a referendum.

A Belgium-wide general strike is currently underway to coincide with the political summit in Brussels. The work stoppage was organised by trade unions in protest at the plans of the newly-formed government to cut €11 billion in public spending and to raise the country’s retirement age. AFP reports that no public transport is available and blockades are present on many of the country’s roads, forcing the Belgian government to arrange access for the arriving EU leaders through a military airport.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte told assembled reporters in Brussels that he hoped the conference would capacitate Greece, Portugal and Ireland to become less reliant on EU funding and to return to the open borrowing markets.

Germany recently confirmed it is seeking to have an EU-appointed “budget commissioner” sent to Greece with powers to override its government’s budget policy if necessary. Any other bailout-recipient country, including Ireland, that consistently miss repayment targets could face a similar fate.

UPDATE:
Twenty five of the twenty seven EU states have consented to a eurozone fiscal stability treaty, with Britain and the Czech Republic refusing to sign the proposed intergovernmental document.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has become the latest opposition politician to voice his reservations about the treaty, describing it as “too limited to solve the crisis”.

The treaty will be formally signed at the next EU summit in early March and ratified by 1 January, 2013.

If the Attorney General decides the treaty does not breach the Constitution and a referendum is not required to implement it, a legal challenge from opposition parties is likely. The United Left Alliance today described not holding a referendum as “utterly undemocratic”.

Ryanair Predicts Further Profits

Ryanair has positively reassessed its profit predictions for 2012 following an unexpected revenue surge of 13% in the final quarter of last year.

The Dublin-based budget airline achieved a net profit of €15 million in the three months up to 31 December 2011, well ahead of the €16 million loss forecast by leading analysts in a poll compiled by the company. Overall revenue during this period came in at €844 million, €25 million more than expected. In light of this, the firm now expects profits for the year to 31 March to reach €480 million.

The increased profit comes amidst a 2% fall in passenger numbers and an 18% rise in fuel costs. The airline maintains it more than compensated for such expenses by raising ticket prices by an average of 17% and grounding 80 of its 270 planes. Improved winter weather conditions also aided air travel after severe snow storms threw the sector into chaos in late 2010 and saw Ryanair lose €10 million.

“The EU recession, higher oil prices, the unfolding failure of the package tour operator model, significant competitor fare increases and capacity cuts, has created enormous growth opportunities for Ryanair,” chief executive Michael O’Leary said. However, the outspoken CEO admitted the estimated €350 million increase in the airline’s fuel bill next year “poses a significant cost challenge.”

While Ryanair and other low-cost airlines such as EasyJet have posted healthy figures, higher-priced competitors continue to struggle in the current economic climate. German group Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have cut profit forecasts and slashed plans to expand in 2012.

According to the International Air Transport Association, Ryanair carried more international scheduled passengers than any other airline in 2010. Its passenger numbers are expected to grow to 80 million this year, up from 76 million in 2010.

Callely Freed Following Overnight Stay Behind Bars

Former junior minister Ivor Callely has been released from garda custody after a night in jail following his arrest stemming from alleged irregularities regarding mobile phone expenses he claimed from 2002 – 2006 while working as a Senator. He remains uncharged.

The former Fianna Fáil TD has previously admitted that receipts he submitted in order to claim over €2,800 were on the headed notepaper of a defunct company – Business Communications – that had ceased trading in the 1990s. He said he did not know how this had happened and subsequently withdrew the claims and refunded the money.

Solicitor Noel O’Hanrahan has claimed his client is “completely and totally innocent of any wrongdoing.” A file has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Callely was arrested by fraud squad detectives at his home at St Laurence’s Road, Clontarf yesterday afternoon. Gardai searched this property, his former constituency office on the Howth Road and his holiday home in Kilcrohane, West Cork.

Suspicions regarding the claims were aroused in August 2010 when former Green Party TD Paul Gogarty made an official Garda complaint over what he saw as Mr Callely’s misuse of the expenses system. The Standards in Public Office Commission examined the claims and filed a report.

Mr Callely is no stranger to controversy – resigning the same month after becoming embroiled in a scandal when it emerged he had erroneously claimed allowances worth €81,000 over three years for living in his holiday home in Cork. He was handed a 20-day suspension from the Seanad, but the High Court subsequently overturned the order, ruling that he had not been given a chance to defend himself.

Mr Callely was first elected as a TD in Dublin North Central in 1989 and lost his seat in 2007. Between 2002 and 2005, he held junior ministries in health and transport. He quit his ministerial post in 2005 when it emerged a company involved in public contracts had painted his house for free.

Choice Music Prize Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for this year’s Meteor Choice Music Prize has been announced. Established acts such as Pugwash and Lisa Hannigan are joined by a number of new artists including We Cut Corners and Tieranniesaur. According to Paddy Power, the latter are third favourites to scoop the coveted award, following Cashier No 9 and And So I Watch You From Afar.

The shortlist was drawn up by a panel of people who work in the music industry including Naomi McCardle (Harmless Noise), Ed Power (Irish Independent), Lauren Murphy (The Irish Times) and Nadine O’Regan (Phantom FM).

All the nominees are due to perform at the awards ceremony concert in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin on Thursday, 8 March. Tickets for the gig will go on sale this Friday.

The winning act will receive €10,000, a prize funded by the Irish Music Rights Organisation and the Irish Recorded Music Association. All of the shortlisted acts will receive a specially-commissioned award statuette, courtesy of the Recorded Artists Actors & Performers Ltd.

The prize was set up by Irish Times music journalist Jim Carroll and industry manager Dave Reid in 2005. Previous winners include Two Door Cinema Club, Adrian Crowley and The Divine Comedy.

The full shortlist:
And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs (Richter Collective)
Bell X1 – Bloodless Coup (Belly Up Records)
Cashier No 9 – To The Death Of Fun (Bella Union)
Lisa Hannigan – Passenger (Hoop Records)
The Japanese Popstars – Controlling Your Allegiance (EMI)
Jape – Ocean of Frequency (Music Is For Losers)
Patrick Kelleher & His Cold Dead Hands – Golden Syrup (Osaka Records)
Pugwash – The Olympus Sound (EMI/1969 Records)
Tieranniesaur – Tieranniesaur (Popical Island)
We Cut Corners – Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards (Delphi)

Mad Pride Founder Dies at 61

 

John McCarthy, founder of the mental health awareness group Mad Pride Ireland, has died aged 61 following a two year battle with motor neurone disease. He passed away at his home in Montenotte in Cork city yesterday morning.

McCarthy was a convivial and outspoken advocate who pushed for the “normality of madness” and open discussions on psychological health.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin led tributes to the inspirational McCarthy, saying he had he had helped to change how people view mental illness. He said, “He handled his own diagnosis with motor neurone disease with dignity and bravery, and continued his work on behalf of those living with mental illness.”

On 29 December, McCarthy spoke of his illness in his Cork Independent column. With characteristic wit, he wrote, “My health, like the economy, is going to shite, but my spirit is growing.” He added, “‘Mental illness’ is not about lack of resources, it is about an ethos based on the right to force a cure, on victims, who are patients. I will fight that abusive ethos as long as I have a breath in me.”

He is survived by his wife Liz, children David and Jill, and grandchildren. A humanist ceremony marking his life will take place at midday in Cork city tomorrow, followed by his burial at Curraghkippane cemetery.

Belfast Court Annuls Quinn’s NI Bankruptcy

The Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, has succeeded in having Seán Quinn’s bankruptcy status in Northern Ireland annulled.

The IBRC argued that Mr Quinn’s centre of main interest was in the Republic of Ireland and not north of the border as he had claimed when successfully seeking bankruptcy status from a Belfast court last November. Certain commentators were dubious of the move and believed it was carried out due to the North’s more lenient bankruptcy laws.

During its challenge, the IRBC claimed that a European Directive that applies in insolvency cases specifies that a person’s centre of main interest has to be ascertainable to third parties, such as creditors.

After Mr Justice Donal Deeny gave the ruling, Quinn told reporters outside the Belfast High Court, “The whole thing is a joke.” He said that he didn’t know how the bank would retrieve the €2.9 billion he owes them as his company is “destroyed”. He remarked, “It is like somebody taking a sledgehammer to a child’s toy. It is wrecked.”

Forbes magazine once ranked Quinn as Ireland’s richest man – in 2008 his worth was said to be in the region of €4.5 billion. He estimates that he lost more than €1 billion after investing in AIB, which was nationalised in 2009.

In April of last year, the IBRC appointed a share receiver to take over the Quinn family’s equity interest in Quinn Group (ROI) Ltd.

An application by the organisation to have Mr Quinn declared as bankrupt in the Republic will be heard in the Dublin High Court next Monday.