Up to 300 people packed the Shamrock Lodge Hotel on Thursday night last to protest against the controversial Household Charge.
The meeting, organised by the Campaign Against Household And Water Charges, was addressed by deputies Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Clare Daly.
A litany of angry contributions from locals served to underline popular anger with the charge.
A protest march has also been organised for Athlone this Saturday, commencing at Athlone Castle at 3pm.
The Say No to Household Tax campaign rolled into Athlone last week and if the large numbers who attended the public meeting are anything to go by, the Government has a major battle on its hands as the momentum of opposition against the controversial charge grows.
Organisers estimated close up to 300 people crowded in the Shamrock Lodge Hotel on Thursday last to vent their anger at the new Government charge which came into effect in January, and hear a rallying call from the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT), not to register for the charge by the deadline of March 31.
Chairing proceedings Ballyfermot-based Cllr Bríd Smith, a member of the People before Profit group, first complimented organisers Gordon and Geraldine Hudson for their part in "rallying the troops" and getting a large turnout on such an inclement night. She urged everyone present to "take up the cudgel" and oppose the unjust taxes.
First to address the crowd was Roscommon Independent TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, who began a stirring speech with praise for the local organisers for "showing backbone and balls" for organising the meeting. He agreed that it was an extraordinary situation that TDs and legislators were going to break the law by not paying the tax, but he claimed deep down the Taoiseach agreed with the stance quoting him as saying prior to the election: "It is morally wrong, unfair and unjust to tax a person's home".
Noting the many promises given by the party before the election, including on Roscommon hospital, water charges and burning the bondholders, he said Fine Gael had failed the democratic trust put in them by voters to follow through on their pledges and this tax was now an opportunity for the public to hit back.
"This is your opportunity, this is a tax you choose to pay or not," maintained Deputy Flanagan, who said he wasn't against the idea of local taxation so long as the money stayed with local services, but he said for every 100 coming into the councils, 110 was being taken out by the Government.
"So the simple fact is if they say this is about local services they are lying through their teeth. This is not about local services. This money is going to pay the bondholders who bet on the dodgy horse and we're going to pay them anyway... to pay gamblers who lost," he stated to the claps and roars of the audience.
"Let's get real here, people cannot afford these upgrades. You can't get blood out of a stone and putting a stone in prison won't get blood out of it either," he continued.
Regarding the septic tank charge, he said: "It might only be a fiver, but there is a potential bill of 1,000 or 15,000 down the line."
He added: "Sorry big Phil we have moved you a bit on this but you have quite a bit to go yet," he continued, adding that if people wanted to win these fights, then urban and rural residents would have to stand together.
"Hopefully, by next Christmas they will have to do a lottery of a million people to see who they bring to court and whoever that is we'll go with them to court and if we do that we'll win this one," he concluded to raucous cheers with a quote from the rebel priest Fr Michael O'Flanagan, a relation of his. "You have been lied to for too long...it's time for us to wake up and rise up".
Enthusing about the attendance at the meetings so far, Socialist Party Claire Daly thanked the estimated 20,000 people who have left their homes to come out, organise and oppose the tax.
"The reason people are coming out in their droves to these meetings is that it's very, very clear that this is not about 100. The government have made it clear that it is their intention to develop a database out of this household tax and bring in property tax and start charging you for water."
"Do the maths, we're talking about ordinary homeowners being charged 1,200 a year in property taxes and water charges come 2014," she complained.
"The 1.2 billion paid to bondholders is eight years of this household tax being sweated off our backs, that's where the money is going," she repeated, before telling the crowd that enough is enough and this was their chance to make a stand.
Noting how few had registered so far, she said the government campaign was being driven by fear and threats, clarifying that there was no law where the government could take the charge from your wages.
The deadline for registration is March 31 and there are no penalties before that for non-registration and non-payment, she added.
"They want you to believe once that date comes the roof will fall in... they will be running around recruiting people to deliver fines. Again, that's a lie. As of now, less than 100,000 people have registered to pay this charge, they are well behind. That's only 5%."
"It would take 1,000 years to take everyone to court," amid a court crisis and huge backlogs, she believed, adding the campaign was working to ensure the tax would be uncollectable.
"If the clear majority have not registered by March 31 the momentum is on our side and the government is in trouble.. we can force them to back off. People need to hang tough on this and band together... We have an opportunity to be part of making history, people will say that was the one that broke the camel's back," she finished up before the meeting opened to the floor and the large, and at times, extremely angry crowd had their say.
Gordon Hudson, organiser of the Athlone meeting with his wife Geraldine, declared himself delighted with the large turnout on the night, vowing to keep the local campaign going.
He urged people to attend a protest as part of Day of Protest beginning from the Civic Centre along by the castle, down Pearse Street before coming across town and finishing at Golden Island this Saturday at 3pm. "We want everyone to come out."
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