CAHWT defeats attempt to stop student grant in Clare


Despite increasingly desperate attempts by the government to extract their pound of flesh from householders,the Campaign against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) continues to rack up victories.

In September, campaigners in Clare were contacted by a local resident who had received a letter from the County Council asking her to furnish proof of payment of the household tax before they would release her third level grant. It was clear immediately that this demand had no basis in law. If the campaign had not acted so quickly however, some householders may have caved in to what was a clear attempt to exploit families’ fears of risking a student’s chance at a college place.

Early in the week, the councils had the full force of the state behind them, with government ministers including Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan defending them, with Hogan saying “They are doing what [I’ve] instructed all local authorities to do - to ensure that we get a higher level of compliance with the household charge.”

Clare CAHWT, with help from neighbouring areas and the national campaign, began to apply pressure on Clare Co. Co. and national politicians to have this decision reversed. Student groups including Free Education for Everyone (FEE) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) issued statements calling for the letter to be withdrawn and members of USI picketed the offices of South Tipperary Co. Co. (who had sent a simi- lar letter to grant applicants).

Within two days, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced to admit that County Councils had no legal basis to withhold or delay grants. Not content with this statement, however Clare CAHWT announced plans to proceed with a protest planned for Friday.

Two days later it was all over; the threats were withdrawn and an apology was is- sued to all those who had received letters.
As Paul Whitmore of Clare CAHWT put it in a statement “We marched into the Council Offices to demand a clear written promise from them that they would not in any way discriminate against non-payers, and would stop sending these threaten- ing forms to grant applicants. As a sign of the huge impact of people power, we have now received these guarantees in writing. This is a huge victory for our campaign. Hopefully in the future, the council will think twice before attempting such scare tactics.”

The lesson from this episode is clear; if CAHWT had not been there to pull the mask of legitimacy from the councils, they could well have gotten away with these threats. A genuine, tightly organised local campaign can be the eyes and ears of the CAHWT in a community. It is also clear though, that direct action, in the form of non-payment by hundreds of thousands is what gives the campaign its real strength. Through local organising and direct action we can defeat the household tax.

This article appeared in
Workers Solidarity 128 - Nov/Dec 2012