Having turned on the TV one night recently and selected ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ I sat back to enjoy this broadcaster’s well-informed programme. One of the items being discussed was the controversial ‘Household Tax’. Speaking on behalf of the government was a soft-spoken, rather likeable looking TD by the name of Fergus O’Dowd. Like many thousands of others in Kilkenny I was unsure whether or not to pay this Household Tax, that is until I heard the one-time ‘TD of the Year’ (2007) O’Dowd explain.
He humbly told Vincent Browne how badly he felt about having to ask people to pay up. ‘I realise too well Vincent that there are people out there finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet, but we need this money so badly’ he pleaded. The Tipperary-born TD continued by saying ‘Local Government and the services they provide will not be able to survive without it’.
He sounded so convincing with his tear-filled eyes and honest face that I there and then decided to write out a cheque for the amount due. On the following day having posting my contribution I met an elderly neighbour of approximately my own vintage. As we walked along a quiet country road known locally as the ‘Bleach Road’ our conversation turned to the said ‘Household Tax’.
‘Did you pay it?’ I enquired and his reply was ‘yes I did – because of health reasons I want to avoid any stress’. ‘I paid it also’ I admitted, ‘but my main reason for paying is we need to fund our local services’. There was silence for a minute or two and then my friend enquired ‘which services?’
‘Well the car parks in the city for a start’ I said.
‘But sure are we not already paying to park our cars all over the city’ he replied.
‘The street cleaning’? I suggested.
Well what are the groups of voluntary cleaners, such as the Keep Kilkenny Beautiful people doing out working around the city every weekend?
‘The weekly refuse collection’?
But sure you’re already paying for that! and anyway most of it is now privatised‘
‘The Fire Brigade’?
If you are unlucky enough to have a fire in your home you must pay a considerable fee when you call out the Fire Brigade.
‘Our tap water?’
They’re putting in water meters for that and you must pay for it.
The Library Service?
They have an annual membership charge and a fine if you’re late taking back your books.
‘So what do they need the extra money from the ‘Household Tax’ for?’ I enquired.
‘Well’ he said ‘apart from the street lighting, the lads at the top need massive salaries, huge pensions, expenses etc.’ -- so you did the right thing by paying up!
I shook my head and reluctantly admitted to myself ‘I’ve been conned with the TD’s hard luck story’. ‘Fair play to you Fergus if you weren’t in politics you’d do well in Hollywood!’
Of course it was not the first time I foolishly fell for a ‘con job’. Some time ago a traveller woman with a couple of small children in tow called to my home and pleaded for a ‘little help’. She impressed me with her sob story requesting a ‘drop of milk’ for the child and a few euro - if I could spare it’. I duly parted with a carton of milk from the fridge and the requested ‘few euro’ and initially felt good about it.
However, a half hour later on leaving the house to post a letter I found the contents of the carton of milk poured all over the footpath. At the end of the estate where I live the said traveller woman was sitting in a new state-of-the-art Hi-Ace van beside her husband/boyfriend (or whatever!) probably discussing where they would find another estate ‘full of idiots’ who would fall for their well-rehearsed sob story.
Of course there is an obligation on all of us to be a little charitable when someone needs a helping hand, but most of the time these ‘hard luck’ stories are unfounded. A supposedly hard-up family who made a request for a TV to a local charity had a positive response within a couple of days. A good sized television, in perfect condition, giving a sharp picture was delivered to the people concerned. But instead of being grateful the owner of the house told the volunteers to ‘take it away with ye lads it’s a flat-screened one I’m looking for!’. Now isn’t that’s real hardship for you!!
Another incident was when a farmer friend of mine found himself with an abundance of potatoes and he offered a tractor trailer load of them to a well-known charitable organisation in Kilkenny. He was told by one of the voluntary workers ‘we would be grateful to get them but you would need to wash the spuds with a powerhose and when well dried, put them into bags for us’.
So what did the farmer do? He confided in me that he had backed the trailer into a disused quarry on his land and dumped the entire contents of potatoes. Of course this was a terrible waste, but what did people expect a busy farmer to do?
So when you’re in the mood to be charitable just make sure it’s needy people that are on the receiving end. There are many genuine people badly needing a helping hand but there are also lots of confidence tricksters out there too. It is most annoying to realise a con-man (or con-woman!) is having a good laugh if you do happen to swallow their ‘hard-luck story’.