Payments to Irish Water have fallen by almost 50% since the government announced a nine-month suspension of water charges. The idea that they can restart this hated charge in 2017 is pure delusion. The people have essentially defeated Irish Water; they passed their verdict by non-compliance, by marching over and over again, and at the ballot box last February. But it seems the Government are still in denial.
Denial and distortion have defined Irish Water’s bizarre history. Red herrings about conservation, deliberate twisting of the facts concerning the EU directive and payment figures. There has been a constant moving of goal posts by the cheerleaders of water charges in their desperation to get their project over the line. Joe O’Toole’s spurious comments during his brief stint as chairman of the government’s hoax water commission are just the latest in a long line of inflammatory remarks intended to discredit the historic movement of people; people who took the honourable position to defend access to water for everyone.
Mr O’Toole’s dumbed down comments about the neighbour washing three cars and filling the swimming pool (Joe has very different neighbours than most of us) were shallow and misleading. Firstly, for a man who was a Trade Union leader he lacks the sense of solidarity that the people have shown on this issue. Most people don’t want to live in a country were we would begrudge our neighbours access to clean water. Secondly, the polluter pays principle is a deliberately deceptive argument to divert away from the real intentions behind the establishment of Irish Water – privatisation.
The polluter quite clearly is not paying and the polluter is not your average householder washing their vegetables or a 6-year old brushing their teeth. The polluter is big business dumping wastewater and chemicals and other by-products of industrial production into our waterways. The intention has always been to shift the burden of the costs of water treatment away from commercial enterprise and on to individual households.
Household water usage in Ireland accounts for less than 10% yet the government want households to pay 78% of the national costs. The majority of water is used by commercial businesses and agriculture. But they are asked to pay only 22%, and we already know that there is a high rate of non-compliance in the commercial sector. The conservation argument has also been proven to be red herring. Ireland currently uses on average 20% less domestic water than countries were meters are in use.
Nobody is denying that our water infrastructure is in dire need of investment. Due to decades of neglect by successive governments the need to upgrade and repair the system is long overdue. An investment of €6bn to €7bn is needed and should be provided by progressive taxation. This is the only funding model that can ensure that resources are allocated appropriately and that all of our citizens have access to water based on their needs without the threat of being shut off. Public ownership is vital and must be a red line issue for everyone.
Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU that has zero water poverty and we must strive to keep it that way. There were 23,000 domestic water shut offs in Detroit last year. The businesses that defaulted payments were allowed to negotiate part payments or got total write offs. No such treatment for the poorest families of Detroit. Do you think it would be any different in Ireland if Ervia got their hands on our domestic water supply?
Handing over this life essential resource into private hands; to the interests of corporate profiteering would be an enormous tragedy. We need look no further than what is happening with our broadband system; infrastructure is being funded by the state, i.e. the taxpayer, to bring high speed broadband to every house in the country and it is going to end up in the hands of the private sector.
The government proposal is that at the end of a 25-year contract, the private operators will retain ownership of the infrastructure, infrastructure that we paid for. Similarly the tax payer has over generations paid out all of the costs of our water service and we have paid the costs of PR and so called experts at IW as well as €2.6 billion on meters that people don’t want. Make no mistake privatization was always the end goal and the meters are not a conservation measure, they are a billing method.
Water is not just another commodity; it is essential to our lives and our health. It is too important to be left in the hands of market gamblers where profit is the goal over the needs and common good of the people. No matter what guarantees government ministers will give about no shut offs, in the end, it will not be their decision; it will be out of their hands and in the control of Ervia or some other private concern.
The fact that the terms of reference for the government’s commission excluded the Right2Water suggestion, ‘to consider the social implications of funding water services in the short, medium and long term, including water poverty, future privatization and potential water shut offs for low income families,’ probably tells us all we need to know.
Right2Water will hold its own commission and publish its findings in due course. Unlike the governments white wash this will be a welcome opportunity to have a genuine, democratic and open discussion about our natural resources. As well as taking submissions from international experts, it will also look at the experience of cities across Europe who have re-municipalized their water services after years of the failed privatization model.
There can be no doubt that the government’s commission will produce a report in support of water charges. It may not be a good time for a political party to reintroduce the charges now or in the near future. But this commission is about salvaging the project for the future. It will be kept in storage to refloat when the political climate is more opportune. That is why the demand for a referendum is so important.
Right2Water have called for a national demonstration on the 17 September, its key demand is a referendum to enshrine in our constitution that the ownership of water remains in public hands. This is the only way that we can ensure that everyone will have access to clean water and that water poverty will not become a nightmare for future generations.
Irish Water should be abolished and a national water and sanitation board established with responsibility for the provision of public water and sanitation in the interests of the general public. Water is a common good and should be managed in the best interests of the public. Genuine measures should be taken on conservation including public education and the introduction of subsidies for water saving and collection devices. It does fall from the sky, it is a resource we are lucky to have in abundance and we should be leading the way in conservation, treatment and harvesting but this can only be done by public investment not by charging at the point of access but through progressive taxation.
By Clare Daly TD