New Rooney drama invokes Pope in tax protest
The Rooney that the world has heard about endlessly over the past few weeks is boy-prodigy footballer Wayne, currently in action at the Germany 2006 World Cup. But now another Rooney has hit the headlines ñ a Catholic pensioner who has just been jailed for refusing to pay what she says is an unfair tax.
Josephine Rooney, aged 69, and no known relation to the recently metatarsal-stricken England footballer, was imprisoned for three months yesterday (26 June 2006) for non-payment of her £800 local council tax bill.
Miss Rooney, who is a devoted Catholic and a former Eucharistic minister (a lay person who assists at the Mass), was previously handed a suspended three-month prison sentence after she failed to pay a £798.97 debt to Derby City Council.
The feisty pensioner, who has the backing of many people in her neighbourhood, says that the council is doing nothing to address the problem of rubbish and urban decay in her area. She says this is unfair on low income people, especially.
Litter and disrepair of properties have blighted the Hartington Street area of Derby, claim local residents and commentators.
The campaigner was accompanied to court by her parish priest and took a papal encyclical letter with her for encouragement.
She was given more time to settle her outstanding tax bill after sentencing, but declined to do so. The judge told her: ìSadly I have no alternative but to note your wilful refusal to pay and to activate that sentence today.î
In embarking on her trip to the court, and then to prison, Miss Rooney was seen to pack in her bag a copy of the Missal (which includes prayers and biblical readings) and a copy of Pope Benedictís pastoral letter Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).
The day of her sentencing was, coincidentally, the anniversary of Benedict II (the current pontiffís namesake) becoming Pope in 684.
In a statement handed to district judge Joanne Alderson at Derby magistrates' court, Miss Rooney declared: ìWhen people are pushed into a corner and their rights are taken away, there comes a time when one has to take drastic action.î
She went on: ìI have always believed we live in a free a democratic country and yet I see current policies set by our local authority that are in conflict with these principles.î
She said the council had promised to improve her neighbourhood, with schemes to tackle antisocial behaviour and housing conditions.
Added the Catholic pensioner: ìIn this regard they have failed miserably in their stated aims and at the same time caused immeasurable distress and hardship to the poorest and most vulnerable residents in our community.î
The Labour-run city council has denied Miss Rooney's claims, saying measures are already in place to improve the district of Derby where she lives. Other urban regeneration activists sympathise with her, but say withholding council tax is not the best way forward.
Josephine Rooney is a member of the Isitfair Campaign for the Reform of Council Tax.
The group told Ekklesia today: "Isitfair does not encourage anyone to withhold their council tax. Miss Rooney has tried to bring the attention of the council to the plight of Hartington Street for many years, her elected council do not listen, her unelected Police Authority do not listen. How else is she to make people aware of the living conditions in parts of Derby? This is a town, one person said to me, that looks very prosperous, and yet has this ëcrack alleyí in its midst."
Added spokseperson and founder Christine Melsom: "In Derby £4,000,000 is outstanding in council tax. Where are those people? Why arenít they in the courts? Why Miss Rooney? Miss Rooney is being used as an example of what will happen if you do not pay your council tax. When will we see those other non-payers in court?"
"There is no doubt in our minds that the whole council tax system needs replacing with a system that reflects the ability to pay from income", she added. "Josephine Rooney will spend the next three months in Newhall Prison, Wakefield. She is a good woman and deserves support in her fight."
Miss Rooney will be freed from jail as soon as the sum she owes is paid. Another council tax protestor had her fine and bill paid anonymously last year - but it is not thought that multi-millionaire soccer legend Wayne Rooney will pay the penalty in this instance.
A retired Anglican clergyman made a similar gesture recently - becoming the first 'council tax martyr'.