DUBLIN — Debt-mired Ireland is facing a revolt over its new property tax.
The government said less than half of the country's 1.6 million households paid the charge by Saturday's deadline. And about 5,000 marched in protest at the annual conference of Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael party.
Police backed by officers on horseback stopped demonstrators from entering the Dublin Convention Centre. Many protesters booed and heckled passers-by who were wearing Fine Gael conference passes, some screaming vulgar insults in their faces.
Protesters jostled with police as they tried to block the way of Fine Gael activists using a back entrance. Police had to rescue one man mistakenly identified as the government minister responsible for collecting the tax attacked by an angry throng.
Kenny said his government had no choice but to impose the new charge as part of the nation's efforts to emerge from an international bailout. Ireland already has endured five emergency budgets in four years and expects to face at least four more years of austerity.
"The household charge is the law of the land," said Kenny, who noted that people were paying the tax over the Internet at a rate of 5,000 an hour Saturday.
Council offices also were ordered to remain open Saturday to help taxpayers meet the deadline. But the last-minute push wasn't nearly enough as the agency handling tax collection said just 735,000 households had paid by Saturday night.
The charge this year is a flat-fee that amounts to $130 per dwelling, but that's expected to rise dramatically next year once Ireland starts to vary the charge based on a property's estimated value. Antitax campaigners have urged the public to ignore the tax, arguing that the government doesn't have the power to collect it.
Ireland imposed the charge as part of its ongoing negotiations with the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which in 2010 provided Ireland a $90 billion credit line to pay its bills through 2013.