Water charges can be beaten

Michael Wallace

The FG/Labour government has just suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a mass movement of popular resistance to the household charge.

But they clearly haven’t got the message yet.

They are now trying to ram through water metering and charges by January 2014, as part of their subservient deal with the ‘troika’ (EU/ECB/IMF).

After four years of austerity, more than 1.6 million households are to be intimidated into paying a ‘standing charge’ of €40 per year over the next 20 years for the installation of the meters alone.

After that, households will be charged hundreds of euro each year just to receive their water supply.

Each household, large or small, rich or poor would be given a ‘free water allowance’ above which they will be charged on how much water is used. A derisory 40 litres, suggested in 2010 by then Minister for the Environment John Gormley, has resurfaced as a possible daily allowance.

This is the equivalent of one spin cycle of a washing machine or about 28% of average daily use - which is around 150 litres per person.

Operated by Bord Gais, a new state company, ‘Irish Water’, is to be given the task of metering and charging.

This supposedly keeps water under state control.

However, the introduction of water charges would quickly lead to privatisation.

Under the demands of EU law the creation of a ‘revenue generating monopoly’ such as Irish Water ‘distorts’ market competition, and must be broken up and sold off to multinational companies.

As with other services, costs will rapidly rise and waivers such as the possible ‘free water allowance’ will be abolished.

While Eamon Gilmore and Labour continue to lie about privatisation, his allies in Fine Gael are trying to use bully-boy tactics to get their way, refusing to rule out cutting off water supply to households unable to pay.

These threats are shameful given that water is a basic human necessity and vital for the right to exist.

Instead of wasting a year and a half installing useless and expensive water meters, a major public works programme repairing the decrepit and contaminated water supply should be started.

Currently over 42% of treated water never reaches Irish taps and repairing the network would put thousands of workers back to work at the same time as conserving an important resource.

The prospect of water charges and privatisation must be resisted.

Only a mass campaign of popular protest can flush this policy down the toilet for once and for all.

April 25, 2012 - 10:55