by Rita Wall A HALIFAX priest has said he will go to jail rather than pay the poll tax in a public stance which mirrors the mounting national opposition to the planned reform of local government finance.
Fr Peter Sheridan of St Bernard's Presbytery in Boothtown, Halifax, is one of the first poll tax protestors to be fined for his opposition to the tax. Calderdale Council fined him £50 for refusing to complete a community charge registration form. He now faces a further £200 fine and ultimately a possible jail sentence.
"It's an unfair and unjust tax and will place a burden on millions of people who can ill afford to pay it," said Fr
Sheridan. "This is like a reversal of the Robin Hood trend where the poor are being robbed to help the rich. It's ridiculous."
Having worked with the Catholic Housing Aid Society (CHAS), Fr Sheridan stressed that "this tax will cause homelessness, and will weigh heavily on the already vulnerable in our society including the elderly, the handicapped and the poor."
Having talked to the local media and the national radio, Fr Sheridan is hopeful that other religious will follow his example in refusing to pay. "This is a totally unChristian tax, and the government has most certainly failed the people of Britain here," he said.
"As yet the Church in England has not taken a public stance against this tax", said Sr Deirdre Duffy, of the St Joseph of Peace Order who is active in the social justice field. "However, at a grassroots level there arc many like Fr Peter Sheridan who are opposed to this tax which will cause many to suffer," Sr Duffy said.
The poll tax will tax poor and rich alike at a consistent level, with no means test, and will most certainly contribute to the rising poverty and homelessness in Britain, Sr Duffy said. "There is also a considerable amount of confusion among religious about what orders will have to pay the tax," she said. "There are some orders who have property and will be liable for a noncommunity tax, which works out higher than a poll tax, and many orders are exempt but they have not received exemption forms," Sr Duffy said.
The Christian churches in Scotland have been united in their stance against the Poll Tax, taking part in many public demonstrations against its imposition in Scotland.
"Catholic social teaching stresses that those who are better off should be responsible for those who are less well off," said Sr Kilpatrick of the Peace and Justice Commission in Glasgow. "We have been opposed to this tax from the start".
There has been great opposition to the tax in Scotland not only because it discriminates against the poor, but also because it was introduced into Scotland first, and "it was using Scotland as a 'guinea-pig' trial for this tax, and is coming from a government which is not supported in Scotland," said Sr Kilpatrick.
"We are also opposed to the centralisation of this tax, which militates against the autonomy of the local authorities who arc being bypassed and will not control the allocation of the local tax money," Sr Kilpatrick said.
The churches in Scotland have opposed the poll tax on economical, political and cultural grounds in Scotland "and we are determined to keep up our stance against it," she said.
"Hopefully we can now join with those who are protesting in Britain so that we can protect those who will directly suffer as a result of this unfair tax," said Sr Kilpatrick.