Donegal’s Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement to emphasise the fact that they have nothing to do with another campaigning group, Donegal Action Against Austerity (DAAA).
“Until now, we have refrained from speaking out against this group and diverting energy from our campaign, even when they have publicly attacked us,” said Francis McCafferty, spokesperson for Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay (CPWP) in Donegal. “But we cannot allow people to be confused into thinking they are somehow connected to our campaign.”
Mr McCafferty also was critical of advice DAAA gave the public in relation to the household charge, calling it “bizarre”.
CPWP began in west Donegal in the summer of 2011 and organised meetings around the county opposing the government’s household, septic tank and water charges. The Donegal campaign was the first in what became a grassroots campaign across the country to oppose the charges.
DAAA began early this year, after Joe Murphy of Buncrana and his son made a slow drive to Dublin to protest the government’s budget. Mr. Murphy was a founding member but the group’s founding committee fell apart this summer when other members quit over the participation of Mr. Murphy and others in a protest at Loreto Community School, Milford, during the Taoiseach’s visit in May.
Mr Murphy said he had hoped the groups could work together. “We all have to try and do the same thing,” he said. “There’s no good in one group saying one thing and one group another.”
However, Mr McCafferty said the information DAAA is providing people is “complete nonsense”.
“Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay wants to make it absolutely clear that we do not have any connection whatsoever with the DAAA group,” he said.
Earlier this month, DAAA sent out a statement advising the public of methods the group said could be used to return household charge payment reminder letters, “to nullify any tacit agreement/contract that may be implied by their inaction”. The group said members of the public must affix special labels to the envelopes before returning letters to the council.
“Always return their mail to them,” the DAAA statement said. “Write across the letter ‘Return to Sender’ and below it write, ‘Not Recognised’.” The group said such action “legally and lawfully rescinds and rebuts any contract they may think they have with you”.
Mr McCafferty said letters the council has sent to people who have not paid the charge are not contracts. “It’s not an invoice; it’s certainly not a contract,” he said. CPWP is encouraging the public simply to ignore the letters.
Dublin barrister Fergal Crehan also rejected the argument. In an article for the web dsite Journal.ie, he said all acts of the Oireachtas, including the household charge act, apply to everyone. “If people get away with not paying, it will be because it was too much trouble to prosecute them all, not because of a magic loophole,” he said.
“We don’t need to enter any contract to be subject to laws,” Mr. Crehan said. “The Social Contract doesn’t exist, it is a metaphor. You might as well ask to see the captain of the Ship of State, or demand a swatch of the Fabric of Society.”
Mr Murphy said the DAAA approach simply intended to slow down the council’s ability to collect. “If we can slow them up, that’s more or less what we’re at,” he said.
“When they see two or three thousand letters sitting in front of them they know the people aren’t going to take this lying down,” he said.
But Kim McMenamin of DAAA defended the contract idea, saying that returning the council letters means that “you’re rebutting or rescinding or declining the contract”.
Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay is urging the public to ignore what they call DAAA’s “bizarre advice” and to contact them if they receive a reminder from the council, Mr. McCafferty said.
The council continues to encourage people to pay the charge.
“I would like to acknowledge and thank those who have paid the charge to date and would like to remind those that still remain to pay that it is the stated intention of the Government that the payment of the charge must be pursued against those who have not yet paid it,” said Garry Martin, council director of finance. He said reminders have been issued to a sample selection of people and, “as advised recently, there will be an escalation of action against those who remain unpaid over the coming months.”
Mr Martin said options that remain include the pursuance of the charge through the courts and the possibility of it becoming a first charge on any upcoming property tax. He repeated the minister for the environment’s warning that non-payment could affect local government fund payments to councils.
“This income contributes to covering costs across many council areas of function,” Mr. Martin said. “It is clearly a substantial risk to council services were the local government fund to be reduced.”