The household tax boycott: The beginning of a revolt?

The household tax boycott is a sign that the Troika has finally gone too far in intruding on the internal affairs of Ireland while leaving the bondholders protected. By John Farrell Clark.

As the song goes from the musical, “the Music Man”:

“Well, either you’re closing your eyes

To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge

Or you are aware of the calibre of disaster indicated

By the presence of a pool table in your community.

Ya got trouble, my friend, right here,

I say, trouble here in River City.”

And it’s not just in that fictional town in Iowa where there’s trouble; nor is it about a pool table. It’s right here in Ireland. And it’s about enough being just that: enough. We just might be seeing the beginning of a revolt. People can only take so much.

And the cause of this trouble is the never ending dictates from the Troika made up of the European Union, European Central Bank, and to a slightly lesser degree the IMF, by way of the Memorandum of Understanding.

Up to now the Irish, for the most part, have been stoic and compliant in accepting draconian tax increases, cuts in social services, reductions in government and quasi-government wages, cutbacks to education and health budgets and the loss of thousands of jobs in the private sector. The Irish people took responsibility for their “wayward ways” and their over-indulgence in the boom years. They knew that eventually there would be a price to pay.

“We just have to face up to it, and get on with it,” many have said to me.

But the time has now come when “enough is enough”.

Below is a link to an article in the New York Times that may be foretelling an Irish version of a revolt in the form of a boycott; and it’s not just a coincidence that this word is being used.

In rural Ireland from the 1870s, and into the 1890s, there was a period of serious civil unrest regarding the rights of tenants, mostly small time farm families. It was called the Irish Land War, although it was a war in name only.

The most effective method of protest was a boycott or the refusal to engage in any form of contact with or conduct commerce with those who benefited by the taking over property of tenants who had been unfairly and cruelly evicted.

For those who may not remember or know, this movement started in County Mayo on a large estate owned by Lord Erne, an absentee landlord whose agent, and the person responsible to collect rents, was Captain Charles Boycott. In 1880 the harvest had been very poor and the tenants were offered a 10% reduction in rents; but the tenants were holding out for a 25% reduction due to the significant loss of crops through no fault of their own.

Erne refused to negotiate and Boycott began the eviction of tenants and children who literally had no place to go and nothing to sustain their lives. Many fell in to starvation.

It was proposed by activists “that when dealing with tenants who take farms where another tenant was evicted, rather than resorting to violence, everyone in the locality should shun them.” This tactic was first applied to Boycott, whose Irish workers refused to work in the fields and in Erne’s house. It was also reported that “local businessmen stopped trading with him and even the postman refused to deliver mail.”

Hence the word “boycott” came into use.

The situation was ultimately defused by the passage of a series of Land Acts that began to properly protect Irish tenant farmers.

130 later, the Irish government has introduced a household tax that appears to be bringing about a similar protest movement. It just might be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

In the March 20, 2012 edition of the New York Times it was reported:

“Throughout the European financial crisis, Ireland has won plaudits for the way it has handled austerity. But growth has stalled here once again, and an incipient tax revolt is being taken as a sign that even this most stoic of nations is becoming fed up.

“Urged on by promoters of a tax boycott, fully 85 per cent of Irish homeowners have yet to pay a $130 property tax that is due March 31. The latest official figures show that just 225,000 property owners out of 1.6 million have paid a total of $29 million — well short of the more than $200 million the government was planning to raise to help support public services.”

A few notable quotes from the Times article from some of the Irish people interviewed:

“The reality is people are not paying for a reason — they are consciously using this to strike back. This is mass civil disobedience in the finest boycott tradition.”


“Many people are sitting tight rather than actively going out protesting. This is sullen, peasant discontent in the finest Irish tradition. This is the revolt of the greybeards.”


“I had never heard of bondholders or speculators or billions of euros in debts, but I know all about them now. I also believe the government is lying to me when it says it will be used for local services, and that’s one thing everyone I’ve met agrees on, whether they’ve paid this or not.”


“It will be a real nightmare scenario for the government because it doesn’t have the resources to enforce payment. They can intimidate and browbeat all they like, but they don’t have the wherewithal to collect what people are not prepared or cannot afford to give them.”

These protests, or boycotts, may seem unreasonable in that the amount of €100 is relatively small. But it is not the amount that is at issue, rather it’s a sign that the Troika has finally gone too far in intruding on the internal affairs of Ireland while leaving the bondholders, like Goldman Sachs, totally protected from what really were bad investments. And the Irish Government is allowing this to happen.

Enda and Michael? You need to really start listening. People can only take so much. There just isn’t a financial deficit in the running of the country. There is a democracy and morality deficit, too. Obviously the Irish, many of whom are ardent students of their own history, have long memories, although that may not be the case with the Taoiseach and the Minister of Finance. You can’t just keep taking away more and more from the people without doing something for them in return. If not, it’s self-defeating with a deeper and longer recession the result. Do not make the same mistakes as your predecessors made. That’s not what the people voted you into office for.


Image top: Logo of the Campaign against Household and Water Charges.