Cork City Council held its annual Estimates meeting on Monday, 19th December 2011, to set the council's budget for 2012. The meeting was faced with cuts of €11 million which will severely impair its ability to deal with issues such as housing maintenance and repairs, roads, street lighting, libraries and a broad range of other services which were already under serious financial restraints. The budget was opposed by Cllr. Ted Tynan and a number of other councillors but was pushed through by the establishment parties of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil. Below is Cllr. Tynan's address to the City Council meeting:
Lord Mayor, Manager,
Tonight the 31 elected members of Cork City Council are expected to perform the financial equivalent of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. The government want us to balance a budget to provide all of the City Council’s services on less than two-thirds of the funding they provided us with in 2009 which was already inadequate. Since we are neither magicians nor miracle-workers there can only be one outcome if this budget is passed, and that will be further misery and hardship for the citizens of Cork and for Cork City Council’s tenants.
I am sure there are some here who think it might be worth going to the top table and pleading with the Minister of the Environment, Phil Hogan to increase the allocation for 2012, but they already know the answer they will get. Just as the meek Oliver Twist, who asked for more gruel only to be shouted down by the bellowing Mr. Bumble, such demands will be rebuffed, if only because the Board of Guardians at the EU/IMF workhouse have forbidden it. There’s no point in asking the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore either because he’s too busy fending off his own backbenchers who are fighting like cats over who will get the so-called Super Junior ministry left vacant by Willie Penrose.
Getting back to the nub of this problem, and all I can say is there is no way the Workers’ Party can support this budget because it is a charter for further cuts in the services that this council was established to provide. Cork City Council was not set up to be a business, it was set up to provide specific services in such areas as the provision of social housing, provision and maintenance of public streets, footpaths, street lighting, water, waste management, parks, libraries and a whole range of other services one would expect in a city of this size. But the government and the City Manager want to run the council as a commercial enterprise and anything that is not capable of funding itself is simply chopped off like an amputated limb. There is no regard for the people that were dependent on the discarded or diminished service, no care for how this might affect the communities that makes up a city and no thought as to how people will cope.
Already the City Manager decided earlier this year, at the stroke of a pen, to ignore the views of elected councillors and privatise the city’s refuse collection service – another core service that the council was established to carry out. The Workers Party correctly predicted many years ago that this would be the end result of the introduction of refuse charges. They weren’t introduced to pay for the service, which was already funded from central taxation. These charges were brought in to make the service attractive for privatisation so that a private company could make a fat profit from the refuse collection service. In a little over a year from now the 11,000 people who were on Cork City Council waivers will be thrown to the wolves as the waiver system is abolished. The government’s intention is to hive off further core services until bit by bit this council is reduced to a mere overseeing body, not providing services but regulating them. Then they will decide to abolish the City Council altogether.
I’m not sure if the government or those who control the City Council on their behalf know much about horticulture, not much if the Sky Garden is anything to go by, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you keep cutting back a plant and don’t water it or give it a chance to grow back then it will eventually die. That is what is being done to Cork City Council.
We are now heading into the fourth successive year of austerity. As we sit down to discuss our budget here in Cork tonight we must not lose sight of the big picture. Our country is in hock to the EU/IMF because the last government decided to pour €70 billion into saving zombie banks, a policy now set in stone by the present government. Let’s put that in context - €70 billion. It would cover this year’s Cork City Council budget reduction for the next 11,000 years or indeed cover the entire cost of running the city for the next 357 years, not taking account of inflation.
Obviously there are more towns and cities in Ireland than just Cork, and there are other important services that have to be run, but it is clear that the money poured into these rotten banks is at the root of our predicament tonight. It is at the root at the crisis in our hospitals, it is the cause of the loss of 88 teachers in Cork’s disadvantaged schools and indeed this bank bailout and the economic ideology behind it are the cause of societal disadvantage in general. Capitalism is rotten to the core and as an elected member of this council, and as a socialist, I do not intend to help create a fig leaf to cover up its gaping shortcomings.
A large part of the funding cut tonight is connected directly to the government’s decision to introduce a new Household Charge as a forerunner to property taxes and Water charges. Let me make clear that the Workers’ Party is not opposed to taxes. They are essential to the provision of services such as hospitals, schools, social housing etc. But there is no fairness in this country’s tax system. For 40 years the Workers’ Party have been demanding tax equity and the creation of a fair system based on people’s ability to pay. The rich pay little and in some cases no taxes; Corporation tax is regarded as some kind of holy grail while the ordinary workers are fair game for all and every levy, charge and stealth tax. The Household Tax and the other charges that will follow it are a further attempt to make the workers and families of this country – the Irish working class – pay for the criminal misdeeds of governments, bankers, speculators and economic crooks.
I am sure that there is no councillor here tonight, nor anyone in management, who is in doubt about how I am going to vote on this budget. I know that already some of them are lining up to attack me or give a lecture and to tell me to live in the “real world”, but I will not be lectured by councillors who are just back from another wasteful junket, nor by those who month after month sign up for conferences on a whole range of topics around the country and abroad and are happy to claim the expenses. Most of these conferences are profit-making concerns run by professional conference organisers and much of the information could be found in the City Library or on the internet. They are merely an excuse for a junket at public expense.
What kind of obscene joke is it for this council to spend half a million on a hanging articulated chassis now rusting in the Showgrounds and thousands more on a sculpture which is supposed to represent a cow stuck in a tree? Even Diarmuid Gavin now says it is time to call a halt to the Sky Garden which he regards as an embarrassment. Then the City Council decides to spend another €300,000 on wining and dining the British Queen and bring the city to a standstill for her and her husband and all at a time when thousands of people are left waiting on housing lists, for housing maintenance and when city services are being filleted. We are not amused. Are the hard-pressed thousands of people on the housing waiting list or those suffering in damp and draughty council homes supposed to be impressed by the aesthetic qualities of so-called sculpture or the grandeur of foreign royalty? Such frivolities come from the same mindset as Marie Antoinette and her “let them eat cake” declaration.
Lord Mayor I will be voting against this sham budget and refuse to engage in the shuffling of deckchairs on the Titanic which is taking place here tonight. I refuse to endorse the austerity which is being imposed on the working people of Ireland by the government at the behest of EU/IMF bureaucrats whether that be Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jose Manuel Barroso or their real bosses at the head of the international banking elite. This is not a budget, it is a financial millstone and must be given no credibility by this assembly.
Following the meeting Cllr Tynan issued the following statement:
"The totally inadequate budget passed in Cork City Hall tonight will devastate services in the areas of housing maintenance, roads, footpaths, street lighting and a whole range of other tasks the council is responsible for."
"The three main establishment parties on the City Council, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, had acted with a single voice last night, proving that the pact formed over 30 years ago is still active. These parties are Cork’s own Troika – ruthlessly cutting council services at the behest of the country’s new EU/IMF and ECB masters”.
“Despite their grandstanding in the Dáil on a weekly basis, there was no difference between the three main parties last night, they were a coalition for cutbacks, and true to form they also united to protect their lucrative perks in the form of conference expenses, the Lord Mayor’s totally inflated salary and other pet projects”
"There was no way I could support this budget which copperfastens the new Household Charge which my party is totally opposed to and it leaves the City Council well short of the funds it needs to provide vital services to citizens and tenants. This budget is a charter for further job losses, privatisation and the neglect of citizens and their needs"