Belfast Telegraph

Tax march overshadows Kenny speech

Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned his party had no cause to celebrate while hard-pressed families struggle, despite earlier urging them to cough up for the controversial household charge.

Almost a million householders had still not paid the 100 euro levy in the run-up to the Taoiseach's address at the 76th Fine Gael ard fheis in Dublin city centre.

An angry mob of over 5,000 protesters marched to the conference at the Convention Centre and called for the Government to scrap the charge just hours before he delivered his keynote speech to 4,000 party delegates.

"As we gather at this ard fheis, our purpose cannot be one of celebration," said Mr Kenny. "We will not celebrate until Ireland has reason to celebrate. Tonight, unemployment remains too high. Too many families are struggling to make ends meet. Too many worry about losing their homes. Too many of our children are still moving away."

A total of 776,153 households had paid the tax by Saturday evening. The deadline to register was midnight. The Government hopes to raise around 160 million euro from the charge - money which will be used to fund public services such as footpath and parks maintenance, and public libraries. It had raised around 73.5 million euro by late afternoon.

Earlier, Mr Kenny said he was heartened by those who had already paid the levy, which he described as the law of the land.

But crowds of angry protesters waving placards and banners, some depicting Environment Minister Phil Hogan as Adolf Hitler, argued they could not afford the "unfair" 100 euro charge. Opposition TDs have suggested the Government scraps the charge and raises the money through a wealth tax.

Nine TDs from the Technical Group had previously warned the Government would have a mass revolt of people power on its hands as a result of the levy.

In his speech, Mr Kenny acknowledged the hardship many are enduring, but insisted stabilising Ireland's economy was the Government's priority. This was Mr Kenny's first ard fheis as Taoiseach and the party's first one in 16 years since it was last in Government.

"I know that for many people, the measures we have had to take have been painful," he went on. "But we are doing the best we can to protect the most vulnerable."

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