> Half liable households yet to pay
> Debt collection ‘an option’
The issue of whether to pay or not to pay the Household Charge has split the county of Mayo down the middle.
County Manager Peter Hynes revealed to The Mayo News that according to initial estimates by Mayo County Council, the number of people in Mayo who paid the €100 levy will be in line with the national average of 50 per cent. The deadline for payments was last Saturday, March 31.
“It is estimated that 52,000 households are eligible to pay the charge in Mayo and at this point I would put us at 50 per cent. The best case scenario would be 52 per cent and the worst is 48 per cent, so I would put the final figure between those two,” he said.
However, Mr Hynes stressed that the figures should carry a ‘health warning’, as a significant number of postal payments have yet to be processed in Dublin.
Council offices remained open on Saturday to facilitate late payments. The majority of payments were made over the past couple of weeks, however, with 967 people paying at council offices around the county on Saturday.
Belmullet-based Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh is not surprised by the 50 per cent figure. She told The Mayo News that she believes that Government ‘scaremongering’ tactics in the final weeks ahead of the deadline ‘frightened’ people into paying the €100 levy.
Cllr Conway-Walsh opposes the household charge, and did not pay it out of solidarity with those who cannot afford it. She also does not believe the Government when it says the charge will be used to fund local services.
“I don’t think this will go towards services, I believe it is going straight to fill a hole in the private debt of banks. If I thought for one minute this would improve the services for local government I would have no hesitation in paying it.
“The government is going after ordinary people and frightening them. I wish they made the same effort in going after the small number of people who acquired great wealth in this country at our expense.”
Many people are now wondering what will happen next, and, more particularly, what will happen to those who have not paid the charge. The County Manager said a new campaign to encourage late payments will be undertaken. He said that debt collection is also an option.
“We will look at our options of enforcement, and debt collection is one of them. We will not be doing that lightly, but we need to collect the charge.
“The €100 household charge provides part of the finance for the Local Government Fund, which is worth €27.8 million to Co Mayo this year. The collection of the charge is critical to enable [Mayo County] Council to continue to provide local essential services, including fire and emergency, roads, water, housing, parks, libraries and our arts programme,” Mr Hynes said, adding: “Support for your county is both essential and appreciated.”
Minister of State Lucinda Creighton recently accused local authorities of being ‘poor performers’ in collecting the charge. The county council’s record was defended by Mr Hynes, however, who pointed out that the collection of the charge was not over just because the deadline had passed.
“It is a bit early to criticise people at this stage but Mayo County Council did our bit. We had a PR campaign to collect the charge, which included placing ads in local papers,” he said.
There has been speculation that the failure of the government to collect over 50 per cent of the charge will result in cuts to services at local level. When asked about possible cuts to services, Mr Hynes said it was too early to speculate, adding that he did not envisage a financial crisis in Mayo later in the year.
Commenting on the 50 per cent payment shortfall, Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary, said that Minister Hogan had made a mess of the Household Charge. He railed against the suggestion, hinted at by Minister Hogan, that local authorities that showed low level of compliance would suffer more cuts than those that showed a higher level. “At the weekend, we saw Government ministers trying to shift blame onto local authority workers in Mayo and across the country for the mess that Phil Hogan has created over the household charge.
“Now it is reported that Minister Hogan will punish those areas where the household charge has not been successfully collected, by cutting local services to the entire community.
“Let us be clear, this fiasco is not the fault of local authority workers in Mayo or anywhere else. This is the Government’s fault. They made a mess of this from the beginning by forcing a flat-rate charge on people regardless of their ability to pay, by failing to provide the proper information to the public, by failing to allow people to pay in a variety of ways including in their local post office, and by failing to give people enough time to pay by instalment,” he said.
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