Ireland: Water charges are just paving the way for privatisation

Irish government doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the massive opposition to its Household Tax

People who walked into newsagents shops all over the country on last week might easily have staggered out in a confused and shell shocked state after glancing at the morning newspapers. A plethora of banner headlines would have leapt out at them with horror stories of a raft of new fees, charges and taxes awaiting them in the next few years if government plans are allowed to be implemented.

‘Households to pick up €800 million bill to establish water company’ said the Irish Times. ‘Hogan to announce meter rollout’ announced the Daily Mail. ‘Pay up or I’ll cut off your water’ screamed the Star referring to Environment Minister Phil Hogan saying that it would be his philosophy that homes which did not pay water charges should have their water disconnected. The Irish Independent shocked with the headline, ‘Property tax of up to €1,000 on cards.’

Like a drunken sailor Phil Hogan, Fine Gael’s minister for the environment, community and local government, staggers around the political landscape trying to implement a new tax here while announcing another charge there. However, your average drunken sailor would muster more coherence than the Minister. His cabinet colleagues have been equally unsteady on their feet as Taoiseach [= prime minister] Enda Kenny and his Deputy, Eamon Gilmore, gave out garbled and contradictory versions of what is supposed to be their government’s policy on water charges.

At the receiving end of all this bungling are the unfortunate householders and taxpayers. And many of them are hurting badly already before any new burdens. That much is clear from the Irish League of Credit Unions survey which finds that 47% of Irish adults have less than €100 left over at the end of each month once the bills are paid. In short very many simply cannot bear any more.

It’s probably no coincidence that government sources are briefing behind the scenes about stiff new local taxes and charges. No coincidence, because their Troika masters are in town to see if their minions are implementing the memorandum agreement imposed on the people of this State to bail out the Irish and European speculators whose property gambling losses they have placed on their shoulders.

Local taxes and privatisation in public services are the stock in trade of the EU bureaucracy and the IMF. (Ask the poor people of Africa and Latin America about the brutal ‘structural adjustment programmes’ forced on them in the 1980’s by the latter agency. ) The government of Fine Gael and Labour, every bit as subservient as their Fianna Fail/Green predecessors, are anxious to impress as the ‘poster boys of austerity’, an accolade awarded them by the sharks in the financial markets and the neo liberal and right wing politicians who dominate many countries in the EU.

There is no doubt that a steady march toward an attempt at the privatisation of water services in the State is well underway. Labour Leader Gilmore attempted yesterday in the Dail to strenuously deny this but none of the political establishment can be trusted on this issue. Once water is turned into just another commodity, then the service is ripe to be picked off by private, profit seeking, water companies . That is how the domestic refuse services came to be removed from the hands of the local authorities, leaving householders at the mercy of the privateers. Domestic water metering is simply a preparation for water going the same way.

Mr Gilmore tried to cover up the obvious by claiming that the meters should be installed as a measure to cut down on water usage and wastage. Here he was flying in the face of evidence that it does not make a massive difference to domestic consumption, as is made clear by a comparison of the average household usage in the Dublin Region and areas in England where water is privatised and expensive.

Kevin Murray is a chartered engineer who is considered an expert on water management. He is in favour of a water tax and favours domestic meters, but as a water management aid. A year ago he stated in an article in the Engineers Journal, ‘It is argued that meters will be fairer and will change the behaviour of the consumer, i.e. they will use a lot less water. This is largely a myth.’ (his emphasis)

The fact is that the hundreds of millions of Euro which the government wants to spend on installing domestic water meters could be used to a massively greater conservation effect if invested instead in the catastrophically leaking pipe infrastructure.

The government doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the massive opposition to its Household Tax. Half of households have not registered. There will be an equally robust boycott of water taxes and a demand for a different conservation policy and funding mechanism. Working class people can bear no more austerity taxes. Expect their revolt to intensify.

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