STAFF working at Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s constituency office in Kilkenny have been subjected to a torrent of abuse and intimidation over the past few weeks.
Abusive phone calls and insulting letters have been a regular feature of life for the staff of the office, in the run-up to the deadline for registration for the Household Charge last Saturday. It culminated in a physical confrontation last weekend at the Ard Fheis, when protestors attacked the minister’s secretary Claire Langton, pulling her hair.
While the Kilkenny office is usually open Monday to Friday, it was closed on Monday of this week to allow the workers to recuperate. Minister Hogan said that it had been a difficult few weeks for the staff.
“They are rather distressed by the level of harassment that we have been receiving,” he said.
“I am certainly disappointed with the abuse and intimidation from people. People are entitled to protest peacefully, but also with some responsibility.”
The minister said the abuse was part of an ‘organised attempt’ to force him to abandon the charge. He said that in one incident, in Longford last week, his car was set upon by around 30 Sinn Fein supporters from Donegal.
At the Fine Gael Ard Fheis last weekend, a crowd of around 5,000 people protested outside the conference centre. Minister Hogan said that the garda commissioner would be looking at why the protestors were allowed to get so close to the conference centre, and how access to the Ard Fheis was not more secure.
Meanwhile, county councils around the country are awaiting information from the Local Government Management Agency regarding the level of compliance in their area. As of Monday morning this week, Kilkenny County Council had logged just under 11,300 payments.
Minister Hogan confirmed that funding allocations to each local authority would be based on levels of compliance.
“There has to be some measure of incentive for local authorities who pull out all the stops to collect the charge between now and the end of the year,” he said.
Cathaoirleach of the county council Paul Cuddihy said that payment of the charge was essential to maintain local services.
“I am watching the developments like everybody else,” he said.
“I would hope that local services in Kilkenny do not suffer. As it is, we are already pared to the bone.”