Many people will remember Deputy Phil Hogan telling the Irish public that 'water pressure will be turned down to a trickle for people who don't pay' their domestic water charges.
Hogan, now a Commissioner with the EU, has now been outdone by his Fine Gael counterpart Brian Hayes MEP.
On Tuesday, Mr Hayes voted to allow water disconnections by water suppliers to households.
As the European Parliament debated the human right to water, a number of amendments were put forward that would give legislative protections for poorer householders. They included: “Amendment 219: (ba) banning water disconnections by water suppliers to households.”
Mr Hayes decided that water companies should have the right to shut off a vulnerable persons water if they cannot afford their water bills.
Many people may believe that this is not a major issue for European citizens. However, all across Europe, in Italy, France, and parts of Eastern Europe, thousands of households have had their water shut off. Generally for being too poor to pay their bills.
Water companies in the United States are practicing this behaviour too.
Since 2014, more than 110,000 households have had their water shut off. This usually occurs as “customers” fall 60 days behind their bills. Those bills are now an average of $900 per year.
Right2Water and all those involved in the water movement in Ireland want to condemn water shut-offs anywhere in the world.
We would also like to apologise to the people of Europe for the stance taken by Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes MEP, Ireland’s MEP, who does not represent the majority of decent Irish people.
Other Irish MEP’s voted to prevent disconnections including Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan, Martina Anderson and Matt Carthy, along with Independent representatives Luke Ming Flanagan MEP and Nessa Childers.
Should the Irish public not receive a referendum on the public ownership of our water in the near future, it is entirely possible that Fine Gael will privatise our water. Once this happens, if Brian Hayes’ votes are anything to go by, it is possible Ireland could face water disconnections similar to that occuring in Italy, France and Detroit. This is why we must prevent domestic water charges and the commodification of our water.
If you would like to contact any of your MEP’s, their details are available here.
In 2014, Detroit kicked off a campaign to disconnect water to customers who were 60 days behind their bills. The effort was supposed to change a culture of nonpayment. Here’s a look at residential shutoffs by year in Detroit.
2018: 11,422 (through August)
Source: City of Detroit
The Beast from the East and Storm Emma have provided right-wing politicians and the mainstream media with a badly needed opportunity to promote domestic water charges, again. This time, however, they have to resort to fake news because we now have evidence to contradict every single aspect of their claims.
That won’t stop them from demonising water protesters and childishly blaming them for water shortages though.
On the 6th March the Irish Sun published an article by Adam Higgins with a headline:
“THE STATE OF WATER - TDs say Ireland needs water charges to prevent future pipe chaos in storm weather, as 20,500 people are without water.”
The article continues, “Speaking to the Irish Sun, Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell said if water charges had been brought in then the country could avoid the current water chaos from happening again in the future.”
He said: “The water restrictions at night are as a result of critical supply issues. Critical supply issues are, of course, a direct result of the inability of Irish Water to invest in the infrastructure in the same way they might have been able to do had they been in receipt of direct household funding.”
So there you have it. Domestic water charges would have prevented water shortages. How is it, then, that the United Kingdom faced the exact same water shortages following the exact same storm when they have had water charges in place since the 1980’s?
This is the same TD who made the argument in 2015 on RTE’s Claire Byrne show that domestic water charges needed to implemented so that commercial water charges could be reduced for multinational corporations.
In reference to water usage increasing by 10% during the storm, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan added:
“There’s little doubt that the current water shortages are being caused mainly by leaks, but households running taps continuously contributed. In some cases, people had no water because their neighbours were running taps constantly.”
In both instances, neither TD was asked for evidence, a core element of a journalist’s role. Instead they were given free rein to spout whatever pro-water charges diatribe they wanted without any request to justify their claims.
The truth is that water usage increased during the extreme weather because people were confined to their homes for a number of days where they had to cook, clean, shower and flush toilets. This is sometimes referred to as living, with hygiene.
Incidentally, this only serves to prove Right2Water’s argument that those who would have been impacted hardest by a metered water charging regime would be our poorest and most vulnerable citizens - pensioners, the underemployed, unemployed and the disabled - because they spend a disproportionate amount of time in their homes.
The Sunday Business Post published an editorial last Sunday: “Storm Emma water crisis shows folly of scrapping charges.”
The article rightly condemned the water crisis, but apportions blame in entirely the wrong direction.
"There was a predictable response from the opposition – spend more money on the country’s water infrastructure. But some of the calls were coming from the very TDs who fought to abolish water charges. That meant Irish Water lost €239 million which was being billed to customers,” said the editorial.
“To put that in perspective, Irish Water is spending around €125 million per year on reducing leaks in the public water services. All that income from water charges would have replaced a lot more leaky pipes.”
So the Sunday Business Post is still under the illusion that every penny from domestic water charges would have been spent fixing leaks?
Can the editor explain how Irish Water were going to pay for the metering of households which was to cost more than €800 million?
What about operating the Abtran call centre which cost €9.2 million in 2014; €30.2 million in 2015; €21.2 million in 2016 and €15.2 million in 2017 – a total of €75.8 million? In fact, an answer to a Parliamentary Question asked by Joan Collins TD states: “The reduction in costs paid to Abtran since 2016 is reflective of the suspension of domestic billing”. So you can thank water protesters that up to €30m is now going towards fixing leaks rather than on a call centre.
Further costs for Irish Water included consultancy fees of more than €90 million, with ongoing operations consultancy costs of €7 million per year.
The advertising costs for the firm were approximately €3 million per annum.
The postage and billing system was costing €6 million per annum (not to mention the environmental damage of 6 million bills being printed and posted on an annual basis).
The ongoing costs for the maintenance and replacement of meters is estimated to cost €50 million per year, but that would be quite conservative.
All of this adds up, and as Senior Executive Engineer for Water, Gerry Concannon stated to government representatives back in 2010: “the cost of unmetered water is currently about €350 per annum per domestic unit. When all of the costs of metering involving installation, maintenance, administration and replacement are considered, this cost almost doubles in the medium term.”
As Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly pointed out a number of years ago:
"Not one penny of the money they’re demanding you pay will be used to run, or to upgrade, the water system.In fact, even if everyone paid their water bill, every penny of the money would be spent on the admin involved in issuing us with bills."
But, why would anyone want to double the cost of water infrastructure? Especially economists who are supposed to understand these things.
Take, for instance, Ronan Lyons, Assistant Professor of Economics with Trinity College, who got in on the act with a ridiculous tweet:
As Dublin faces months with limited water, I'd like to thank residents who selfishly left their taps on - "just in case" - as well as the policy system, for messing up the chance to bring in the water charges that would have prevented this from happening.https://t.co/AxskgFJVra
— Ronan Lyons (@ronanlyons) March 5, 2018
Notwithstanding the fact he has no evidence that householders were doing this, it was pointed out to him that leaving taps running doesn't work, and that perhaps an education campaign would be appropriate in that regard.
Shortly after he was backed up by Stephen Kinsella, Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick and columnist with the Sunday Business Post.
If only there was some way to get people to limit their usage by showing them how much they are using. Say by charging them, using, perhaps, prices?
— Stephen Kinsella (@stephenkinsella) March 5, 2018
A number of activists immediately came onto the thread with information and facts which neither Lyons nor Kinsella appeared to know or understand. Yet they maintained their position, implying they support water charges for two key reasons (myths):
Let’s address both of these issues.
Firstly, let’s look at water usage. The government appointed “expert commission on water” produced a well-researched report which showed that Irish households use between 15-25% less water than UK households – where they have had domestic water charges since the 1980’s.
The Water Commission’s report stated:
“Irish Water presented consumption data to the Expert Commission based on metered consumption to date, which indicated that domestic consumption is relatively low in Ireland with average consumption of 123 litres per capita (compared, for example, to 140 litres per capita in the UK).”
“While comparison of domestic consumption with other European countries is difficult due to differing methods of measurement and because the data can be out of date, this most recent consumption data suggests that Ireland is at the lower end of the spectrum of EU countries with regard to domestic consumption.”
Greek economist Yanis Varofaukis explained in his recent book that economists generally cannot comprehend a world outside of commodities. They know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Nothing can exist outside the world of supply and demand and therefore they find it impossible to understand what they believe is irrational human behaviour. He uses blood donations as a way to illustrate his point.
Countries who pay for blood donations have a lower uptake than countries who rely on unpaid donations. This is because when you commodify an item, it loses its goodwill factor. A donor who was willing to donate blood on the basis that they wanted to help someone in need may feel cheapened by the process of being paid, and change their mind about donating.
Water is no different. When you introduce a cost, in many instances, high income households in particular will use more of it stating: “I’m paying for it anyway, so I can use as much as I want,” as they fill up their swimming pool for the second time in a week.
This is important to understand because high income households will never worry about a €700 bill coming through their door.
On the other hand, a householder on the minimum wage will spend a much higher proportion of their income on the same bill – and again, as stated throughout the Right2Water campaign, domestic water charges are an attack on the standard of living for the poorest in our society.
And before anyone says: “Oh, but there’d be allowances and exemptions,” we all know how that worked out with bin charges.
Throughout the recent “water crisis” we were told to conserve water because it is a “scarce resource”, and it is. Globally water is becoming more scare as populations increase and industry uses it.
But throughout all of the lectures by TD’s, the media and economists, not once has any of them called for the real polluters and users of our water to pay appropriately for their usage.
Most domestic households use water to cook and clean. Most businesses use water in the pursuit of profit. This is an important distinction, yet it is businesses that use most of our water, but for some, householders are expected to pay the bulk of the bills.
According to a 2005 joint report entitled The Wealth of the Poor – Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty, produced by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank among others, Ireland has 13,003 m3 of “Actual Renewable Water Resources” available per capita.
Compare this with our closest neighbours in the UK where they have 2,474 m3 per capita, or Germany 1,866. We are a water rich country, and again, as the expert water commission stated, we have five times more water available to us than France and fifty times more water available than Israel.
But here’s the thing…according to the same report, industry uses 77 percent of our water while domestic households use only 23 percent.
So why such an emphasis on households reducing consumption? Irish Water’s own estimates, which they have admitted need to be reduced, are that domestic water charges could reduce household consumption by 6 percent.
Do the maths - 6% of 23% is 1.38%.
So, pro-domestic water charges campaigners are arguing to double the cost of our water infrastructure – by introducing meters, call centres, billing systems, advertising, etc – so that we can reduce consumption by a maximum level of 1.38 percent?
And that’s before we take into account that 50 percent of all water is leaked before it gets to the household meaning you can reduce the 1.38 percent by half. It hardly seems worth it.
Try looking at this chart and asking yourself, if you had €2 billion to spare, where would you target expenditure to reduce wastage of water? Would you fix leaks, target commercial water charges or implement a highly expensive domestic metering programme?
In fairness to the expert water commission, they echoed Right2Water’s calls for abstraction charges. In Ireland. If you weren’t already aware, companies like Britvic (Ballygowan), Glenpatrick Spring and Kerry Spring can extract unlimited amounts of water from our wells, bottle that water, and then sell for a profit without paying a single cent in fees.
But what about commercial water charges?
Well, the expert water commission highlighted a serious flaw in the system. They say that half of all businesses are refusing to pay their water bills.
In fact, Irish Water inherited €100 million of debt in relation to unpaid commercial water charges while a further €50 million of debt was written off. Taking account of the figures published for 2015, where Irish Water’s financial statement said that non-domestic revenue brought in €219,872. It’s interesting that this is significantly down on the previous year, before domestic water charges had been implemented, where non-domestic charges raised €248,066.
It’s not possible that Alan Farrell’s announcement on RTE that domestic charges were being brought in to give corporations a cut in their rates was true, is it?
Either way, we can extrapolate that if there is a 50 percent non-payment rate in commercial water charges, and Irish Water took in approximately €220,000 in 2015, then if they pursue the commercial non-payers, we could raise revenue of more than €400,000 per annum from this source.
This, combined with abstraction charges, exploration of increased commercial charges and ring-fencing revenue from the government subsidy (as suggested by the expert commission on water) would provide the necessary income stream for the badly needed investment cited by so many of the pro-water charges lobby.
The argument goes – if we have domestic water charges it will be a guaranteed revenue stream that Irish Water can then use to borrow from the markets. This will then help us to fund the upgrading of our antiquated water infrastructure.
If there’s one thing everyone agrees, it’s that water needs to be paid for and our current infrastructure desperately needs upgrading.
We lose an enormous amount of water to leaks. In some parts of the country, like Dublin, up to 57 percent of all water is leaked through holes in the pipes. This is a scandal.
So who is responsible? The government are. Between 2008 and 2013 the Irish government cut water funding by 65 percent. As recently as 2015, the Irish government of Fine Gael and Labour cut the government subvention to Irish Water by almost €40 million, while allowing commercial companies a reduction of €30 million.
The argument that we need domestic water charges in order to raise funds so we can borrow is a problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, we have given more than €3 billion in tax cuts in recent years, predominantly aimed at the highest earners and businesses. This could have done an awful lot to upgrade our water infrastructure.
Secondly, our government can borrow at record low rates at this moment in time, yet Irish Water would have to borrow at a much higher interest rate off the markets. I’m reminded of a podcast where renowned economist Ann Petifor illustrated the idiocy in this argument.
She pointed out that hospital trusts in the UK are currently borrowing at interest rates of up to 15 percent, yet the UK government can borrow at 0.35 percent. So why doesn’t the government borrow and upgrade the hospitals? The same can be said of our water infrastructure.
Having said that, why would you take out a credit union loan with interest rates if you have the savings to buy the item outright? They could, if the will was there, stop giving tax cuts to the wealthy and fix the infrastructure immediately.
But that doesn’t help them financialise water.
The argument made by Stephen Kinsella on his Twitter account is that water issues will be fixed quicker in the UK due to their investment model they have. What he didn’t realise is that on average, every household in the UK is paying £80 per year to service debt and dividends incurred by water companies. That’s 27 percent of all water bills that is lost to the system because of borrowing and privatisation – which, no matter what anyone tells you, is the end outcome for the imposition of water charges.
Everyone will tell you that there is no privatisation agenda when it comes to water, but very few are campaigning or arguing in favour of a referendum on water ownership. Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour will say they are opposed to water being privatised, but not enough to give us a referendum so we can prevent future privatisation.
These are the same political parties who have collectively supported privatisation of Aer Lingus, Bord Gais, Eircom, Irish Sugar, Irish Life Assurance, Irish Steel, British and Irish Steam Packet Company, Irish Fertiliser Industries, ACC Bank, ICC Bank, Cablelink, Great Southern Hotels, as well as opening up vital public services to privatised competition including - transport, electricity, postal services, healthcare, education.
Why would anyone question their honesty when they say they don’t want a privatised water industry? But even if all those political parties were being honest, there is another threat.
When asked what his position was and whether he would support a referendum on water ownership, Stephen Kinsella said:
“A referendum on it would have my support. But legislation probably the best way to do it.”
The response from Right2Water’s David Gibney was:
“So what happens when we get another bailout in the not so distant future and the EU, ECB and IMF (and others) demand privatisation – like, say, Portugal, Greece or Italy?"
Silence from Mr Kinsella.
The only reason Ireland was not forced to privatise our water during our bailout 8 years ago was because there were no meters and therefore no revenue stream, so no ability to make profits from our water. The first step towards changing that is metered water charges. So in 5 or 10 or 20 years time, it is possible outside organisation will force Ireland to sell off its water if it is not enshrined in the constitution.
Don’t believe us, look at these two quotes from Credit Suisse.
Or what about Citigroup Chief Economist Willem Buiter:
“Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil copper, agriculture commodities and precious metals.”
There is no question, the financial services world is after our water. One of the reasons is that water is now three times more profitable than oil or gas in the UK.
But what happens when you privatise water? Here’s a chart of how water prices increased in the UK compared to the average retail prices. Water has increased at double the rate. And the end result? Water poverty in the UK is now at 23.6 percent compared to 0 percent in Ireland. This is something we should be proud of.
Water companies in the UK have been criticised for their refusal to pay taxes. In 2013 in Britain, private water companies made profits of €2.81 billion, paid shareholders €2.55 billion, while only paying €101 million in taxes. Seven companies paid no taxes whatsoever. Thames Water, one of the largest in the UK, paid an effective corporation tax rate of 0.128% between 2008 – 2013.
Today we learned the sad news that one of the worlds greatest intellectuals, Stephen Hawking, has died. He once said:
“The greatest enemy of knowledge in not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
So when Ronan Lyons, a senior economist says that water charges would have prevented water shortages, one would question whether this erroneous statement is through ignorance, or through assumed knowledge.
When people with actual expertise in this matter came to Ireland to talk about our water crisis, they were completely ignored.
Not one media outlet interviewed Maude Barlow or covered the two speeches she made. Maude, if you don’t know, has written four books on water and was an advisor to the UN on water, along with dozens of other accolades. She is widely recognised as one of he worlds leading experts on water. Her statement simply didn’t fit the medias and right-wing agenda.
"The Irish system of paying for water and sanitation services through progressive taxation and non-domestic user fees, is an exemplary model of fair equitable and sustainable service delivery for the entire world”
When the European Water Movement, the activists who are battling against water shut-offs and water poverty all across Europe released their statement on the water privatisation agenda in Ireland, they were also completely ignored.
"It is clear that the best method of securing access to water, and securing funds for infrastructural investment, is through general taxation.
"The European Water Movement views the struggle of the Irish people to abolish water charges, and to secure a referendum enshrining public ownership of Ireland's water system, as yet more evidence of a real European people's movement to democratise water management."
When Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director for Food and Water watch provided the Irish media with some relevant and valuable information about water, again, ignored. Remember, Wenonah is based in a country where up to 70,000 families had their water shut off in one city alone, Detroit.
“Metering and water pricing, the policies that many economists have advocated for encouraging conservation, is a wrong minded strategy.”
“This market-oriented pricing reform is fundamentally flawed. It assumes that households can or will reduce water use when faced with metering and higher prices. However, residential water use is a small fraction of water withdrawals and even draconian water price increases will have little impact on household water consumption. For most households, water goes towards essential uses like drinking, cooking and sanitation; consumer demand for water does not really change, regardless of price. Economists call this price inelasticity. Consumers will not drink twice as much water if the price of water falls by half, nor will they reduce the amount of water they drink by half if the price of water doubles. A Food & Water Watch review of the economic literature found only a very modest consumer response to rising water prices. Households generally reduce water use slightly in the face of even steep price increases.”
Maybe we don’t get balanced coverage because the Irish media, who are currently struggling to make a profit, with many relying on paid advertorials from the government, were also receiving up to €3 million per year in advertising revenue from Irish Water?
Even when the government’s own "expert commission on water” published the facts and figures behind our water usage - supporting what Right2Water Ireland has been saying for years – the line from the media was that we need water charges.
Put simply, water can be paid for through three distinct methods:
1. Metered domestic charges (England, France)
2. Local rates (Northern Ireland, Scotland)
3. General taxation (Republic of Ireland)
The question everyone should be asking is, which is the optimum method of paying for water from an environmental, economic and social perspective.
With abstraction charges, effective commercial water charges and government subvention, Ireland can ensure we never have water poverty while at the same time providing the badly needed investment in our water infrastructure.
Don’t let ill informed 'know-it-all' economists or the media spin their ignorance or their propagenda in pursuit of a neo-liberal policy of water commodification and financialisation. They did it in housing, health, education and other sectors of our society with devastating impacts, let’s keep our water out of their ideology and their ideology out of our water, and let's not make the mistakes that the rest of the world has already made - and is paying for now.
Oh, and if you protested against the introduction of water charges, you are a hero, and you should be proud. Do not let them blame you for water shortages, that responsibility is entirely down to those who refuse to tackle the real wasters (commercial enterprises) and those who cut funding for water infrastructure (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party).
Now, can we please stop the waste of money on meters, advertising, call centres, consultants, etc, and use the savings to fix the damn pipes? And finally, sign the petition and call on your local TD's to support a referendum on water ownership.
For more, read "Why can't we have an mature debate about water" published by Right2Water more than a year ago.
The Right2Water campaign held a public meeting of supporters yesterday (Tuesday, 29th August 2017) in order to agree a final River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) Submission to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government as part of their consultation process.
The meeting, which was attended by 40 representatives of community groups, trade unions and political parties, unanimously agreed the submission which is available here.
Participants were encouraged to send their own submissions into the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, using the Right2Water submission as a template should they wish to do so.
Submissions should have a cover letter and should be emailed by no later than 5.30pm on Thursday, 31st August 2017.
Further details on the RBMP are available here.
The Right2Water campaign are today (Monday, 28th August 2017) publishing a draft River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) Submission to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government as part of their consultation process.
The submission follows a survey of supporters of the campaign conducted in recent weeks and is available here.
The Right2Water campaign will host a public meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, 29th August) in Unite Trade Union offices on Middle Abbey Street at 5pm to discuss the proposed document. All supporters are welcome.
The government's public consultation phase for the River Basin Management Plan ends this coming Thursday, 31st August 2017.
We are encouraging all activists, community groups, trade unions and political parties to lodge their own submission also. More information on the RBMP and the consultation phase is available here.
If you cannot attend tomorrow evening's meeting, please feel free to send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Government must ensure it times the referendum on repeal of the Eighth Amendment to facilitate full and active participation by all sectors of society. That’s according to the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, which was responding today (29.07.17) to media reports on the timing and focus of future referendums.
The Coalition also stressed the need for the referendum to be “standalone”, focusing solely on the issue of abortion.
Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition, said: “Media reports that the Taoiseach is looking at June or July of next year for the referendum are extremely worrying, as are indications that the Government may decide to hold more than one referendum at the same time.
“Repealing the Eighth Amendment is far too important and complex an issue to be bundled together with other potential referendum topics.
“Furthermore, holding this referendum during the summer months – when many students are travelling or overseas – would effectively mean disenfranchising thousands of young people. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment is a vital issue for their future and for the future of the country. The timing of the referendum must be carefully considered to ensure it allows for full and active participation by all age-groups and all sectors of society.”
Ms. Smyth said she hopes the Government will engage in further consultation before the timing of the referendum is agreed and would welcome the setting of a date for the referendum as quickly as possible.
“We really want to stress the point to Government also that this needs to be a standalone referendum,” she said.
“The people of Ireland have been waiting over 30 years for their chance to repeal this harmful Amendment. Opinion polls show the public want this issue addressed in a timely and definitive way, while a range of EU and UN bodies have sternly criticised Ireland’s failings and have urged the Government to reform Ireland’s abortion laws.”
The Right2Water campaign is currently developing a submission in relation to the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) which will be submitted to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government as part of their consultation process.
In order to ensure all Right2Water Ireland's supporters' voices are heard and are involved in this process, we are asking you to fill in this short survey.
The government's public consultation phase for the River Basin Management Plan ends on 31st August 2017. Therefore, we are asking that you fill in this survey by Friday, 4th August 2017.
We are encouraging all activists, community groups, trade unions and political parties to lodge their own submission also. More information on the RBMP and the consultation phase is available here.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Water is now the most valuable resource on the planet. In the UK, water companies generate three times the profit levels of oil or gas. With water becoming scarcer, and the planet’s population growing, the battle for water ownership and privatization is only going to continue and escalate. Big business knows this:
“Water is a focus for those in the know about global strategic commodities. As with oil, the supply is finite but demand is growing by leaps and unlike oil there is no alternative.” – Credit Suisse.
Household names such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Allianz, Deutche Bank and HSBC have joined companies such as Nestlé in securing a stake in the privatisation of water. Others firms such as Veolia Water, a company intimately linked with Irish Water, form part of a conglomerate known as the Global Water Summit, whose domain name (www.watermeetsmoney.com) tells us everything we need to know about the agenda being pursued by those involved.
So with this in mind, we must accept that elements of the Irish political establishment and the elites of the world will always be trying to commodify and get their hands on our water so they can hand it over to private profiteers, and that the battle will never, ever end. There’s simply too much money to be made from water for them to ever walk away from obtaining its ownership – so we can’t either.
Much criticism has been made of a number of TD’s who support Right2Water declaring a victory on the plinth of the Dail on 5th April 2017. At that particular time, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Water had agreed a draft report stating that charges were to be abolished, mandatory metering would end and the referendum to enshrine public ownership of our water supply would take place. Had that Report been adopted, it would indeed have been a massive victory for everyone who had campaigned against water charges.
Instead, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael conspired to change the report outside of committee hearings, a scandal in itself, undermining the democratic processes of the Oireachtas, and not for the first time. In the same week, Simon Coveney, the Minister responsible for water, issued threats to the committee when he wrote to the Chair.
The result was another flip-flop from Fianna Fail who were now back in favour of water charges. Remember, before the 2016 general election, Fianna Fail not only declared that they would scrap water charges, but that they would also abolish Irish Water.
Here’s a direct line from Fianna Fail before the election:
“Fianna Fáil is committed to:
- Abolishing Irish Water
- Suspending water charges
- Investing in infrastructure
- Returning services to democratic local councils under a national framework.”
What happened after the election was that more than two thirds of all TD’s elected were officially opposed to water charges. Yet the charges remained. As David Gibney said in 2016, this is an affront to democracy.
But back to the victory. Was it a victory? Not exactly. The government are continuing to ram water charges in through the back door. They will do anything they can to keep this project alive. After losing half of their seats in the last election, you’d wonder whether some of these government TD’s have shares in private water companies.
The call of a ‘victory’ was a bit premature. However, was it a scandal that they spoke on the Dail plinth and declared a victory? No. It was naieve to trust the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members of the committee but with an Independent chairing the committee, one might expect a bit of honesty. Furthermore, it must be remembered that Fine Gael members of the committee were out lobbying the media on the plinth for weeks, trying to get favourable coverage for their arguments, which they obviously received. The Right2Water TD’s had to challenge that.
The Right2Water campaign has also come in to criticism for declaring a “substantial victory for people power.” Now this, I believe, is true.
Think back to 2010 and the original plans for water charges. John Gormley from the Green Party had planned to raise €1 billion from domestic water charges. By 2014, that had reduced to €300m. By 2015 it was down to €271m and now it’s down to €0.
In terms of households, a four person family in 2014 was expecting a bill for €480. By November 2016, that was down to €260. And everyone was offerred a €100 ‘conservation grant’ to subscribe to Irish Water. Three years later and there are no bills and those who were intimidated into paying are expecting a refund.
Furthermore, Irish Water is no longer looking for your PPS number, they are no longer threatening to turn your water down to a trickle for being unable to pay your bills, the government were forced to legislate to keep Irish Water in public ownership and there has now been a unanimous vote in favour of a referendum in the Dail, Eurostat ruled against the government in their off-balance sheet exercise, and there are many, many more victories. Arguably, the greatest is the increased level of cooperation of TD’s opposed to austerity as was seen throughout the water committee hearings. Does this mean the battle is over? No, it never will be, as mentioned previously.
Importantly, the next two steps in this battle are to:
Despite mischievous reports to the contrary, the Right2Water campaign has continually called for the utilisation of the Water Framework Directive 9.4 exemption from domestic water charges. The campaign shared Kathy Sinnott’s article on the exemption in 2014. We also shared Marian Harkin’s video in relation to the exemption. In fact, in a letter of complaint to RTE about their coverage of water charges, the campaign coordinators were highly critical of the portrayal by the State broadcaster that the derogation was gone.
For anyone interested, Right2Water sent a detailed submission to the Expert Commission on Water which is available for anyone to read in full here. This is a good resource for anyone wishing to understand Right2Water’s true perspective on water charges. But specifically in relation to the exemption – or derogation, as it’s often referred to, the excerpt is here:
“In response to a question from Irish MEP Marian Harkin in June of this year, the European Commission stated that:
‘Ireland made a clear commitment to set up water charges to comply with the
provisions of Article 9(1) [of the Water Framework Directive] ... Ireland
subsequently applied water charges and the commission considers that the directive does not provide for a situation whereby it can revert to any previous practice.’
However, the Commission is also on record as stating that it considers “established practices” to be those practices which were “an established practice at the time of adoption of the directive”. This Directive was adopted on October 23rd, 2000, and transposed into Irish law in 2003, when it is beyond doubt that Ireland used general taxation as its established practice. Indeed, this was the established practice right up until the introduction of domestic water charges in October 2012 in a project which has now been resoundly rejected by the majority of Irish citizens.
On this basis, Right2Water believes it is the Irish government’s duty to use its derogation, justify its approach to river basin management and, if necessary, challenge the Commission through the EU courts. If the political will is there this could be done with reference to the 2014 landmark case on EU water recovery rules whereby the European Court of Justice found in favour of Germany, after the European Commission tried unsuccessfully to take that state to court for, in its opinion, failing to fulfil its Water Framework Directive obligations. This judgment conclusively stated that it cannot be inferred that the absence of pricing for water service activities will necessarily jeopardise the attainment of the Water Framework Directive.”
To clarify this matter further, every time you call for water charges to be scrapped, you are calling for the use of the derogation. If the government were to agree to the scrapping of water charges, or the Joint Oireachtas Committee was to recommend in favour of scrapping water charges, this would obviously have to be done by using the 9.4 exemption.
However, those who have insisted that the Right2Water campaign prioritise the 9.4 exemption above all else are playing a very dangerous game. Even if the government include the derogation in the River Basin Management Plan, the government can still bring in or continue with water charges. Simply utilising the exemption does not scrap water charges, abolish Irish Water or end metering for that matter. Are those who portray the inclusion of the derogation as the only way to achieve success unaware that the derogation has been in existance since 2003, and yet the government brought in water charges anyway? Are they ok with water charges in place, as long as we have the exemption?
Having said that, it is true that if the government does not include the derogation, it will be devestating for the campaign. Over the coming weeks and months we need to focus our attentions – collectively – on those who can ensure the exemption is included in the River Basin Management Plan. This includes Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Independent Alliance. You can find out more about the RBMP here and we will be lodging our submission shortly which will be available to the public.
It’s important also to remember that the 9.4 exemption is not permanent. It has to be included in the RBMP by the government of the day. They and they alone have the right and, in our opinion, obligation, to compile and submit such plans. Each RBMP covers a six year period and the current plan is overdue and will apply until 2021, when again, we will have to demand it is included again. Remember we said this is a permanent battle? This is also one of the reasons why all those opposed to water charges must get sufficiently organised. More on this later.
Right2Water is a broad based campaign, deliberately so. Since the beginning we have encouraged all activists to utilise all peaceful methods to prevent water charges from being imposed on the Irish public while not focusing on one tactic alone. This included support for those boycotting bills, blocking the installation of water meters and lobbying of politicians. This strategy has been a success, so far. Through mass mobilisation on numerous fronts, and through unity, together we have delivered some major victories along the way.
However, since the beginning of the campaign, there has been powerful opposition. The Irish State has come down heavy on protesters like those from Jobstown in recent weeks. The mainstream media has continually misrepresented the anti-water charges movement and protesters have been labeled ‘dissidents’, ‘sinister fringes’, and even been equated to ISIS. Irish Water has been spending more than €3 million a year on advertising, so we were never going to get a fair hearing. So called ‘experts’ have been rolled out for a well resourced pro-water charges lobby. The EU has set up fiscal rules which incentivise commodification and privatisation of water. This is all to be expected.
What is unexpected and unexplained is how many who say they want water charges scrapped continually misrepresent others in the campaign. Why do some attack politicians who have continually voted to scrap charges and refuse to vent their anger or attention at politicians who vote in favour of them – like Fianna Fail or Fine Gael? They criticise five TD’s on a committee of 20 for not being able to include the 9.4 exemption, yet have never criticised the person who drafted the report or any of those who voted in favour of it.
When you look at the facts and the statements linked above, you wonder what motivation some of these activists have in trying to undermine the Right2Water campaign?
Right2Water’s most recent blog has one sentence which captures the demands of the campaign:
“Irish Water should now be abolished, wasteful metering programme should be ended, a referendum must be held and all charges against water protesters should be dropped.”
This has been consistent throughout the campaign, so those who refer to political parties, independent politicians, Right2Water representatives or anyone else within the campaign as ‘sell outs’, must have some other agenda? Again, for clarity, this is the official Right2Water policy and it hasn’t changed since it was adopted.
All Right2Water meetings are public and anyone can attend and have their say. If anyone has genuine criticisms of strategy or tactics, they can contact us at email@example.com. It is important to note that this campaign does not have and never had anyone working full-time on it.
In the meantime, those who have experienced and felt the power we have all felt over the last number of years through the water charges movement, and are genuine about achieving real change in our country, can attend a ‘Congress for a New Ireland’ on Saturday, 9th September 2017 to establish exactly how we can work together to achieve more successes, including the future abolition of water charges. Please register to attend the conference here.
Citizens’ Assembly delivers report on Eighth Amendment to Oireachtas
The publication of the Citizen’s Assembly report on the Eighth Amendment has been welcomed by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. The Citizens’ Assembly recommended sweeping reform of Ireland’s abortion laws by a large majority vote in April of this year.
Commenting on the publication of the report, Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: “The publication of the Citizens’ Assembly report today again brings to the fore the fact that a majority of the Assembly, representing a cross section of the Irish electorate, voted for root and branch reform to abortion laws in Ireland.
“The Citizens’ Assembly clearly reflected a widespread understanding of Ireland’s highly restrictive and punitive abortion laws, the plight that Irish women find themselves in when they require an abortion, and the inhumane treatment they are consequently subjected to. Their recommendations could not be clearer: healthcare services must meet women’s real reproductive health needs, including the provision of full abortion services. In fact, a large majority of the Citizens’ Assembly voted for the provision of abortion without restriction within specified time limits.
“We’re calling on the Joint Oireachtas Committee now to respect the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly and to put an end to the inhumane treatment of women. There have been distressing cases brought to light in recent weeks, including the sectioning of a young girl, and a woman forced to travel to access abortion after being diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality. There can be no more political delays – every day, 10 women travel abroad to access abortions. The Oireachtas Committee must simply get on with their job and recommend a referendum on the Eighth Amendment be held as soon as possible. The Eighth Amendment must be removed in its entirety from the Constitution.”
Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment invited to address several European meetings this week
Ireland’s failure to provide safe and legal abortion services will be highlighted by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment at a number of high-level European meetings over the coming week.
Tomorrow, Thursday, 21st June at 4pm, Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition, will brief #ALLofUS, an influential cross-party group of MEPs working to secure the right to safe and legal abortion worldwide.
The briefing will focus on the current situation in Ireland and the role the European Parliament can play in supporting the Coalition’s advocacy work.
It will take place at the European Parliament, Rue Wiertz, Brussels, ASP 5 G 375.
Earlier tomorrow, Ms. Smyth will meet with International Planned Parenthood Europe. She will participate in a roundtable discussion with representatives of Sensoa, the Flemish Centre for Sexual Health, and LUNA, the umbrella organisation of Flemish abortion centres. The event will begin at 12.30pm at the IPPF EN office, Rue Royale 55, 1000 Brussels.
Tomorrow evening, Ms. Smyth will be the guest speaker at an event organised by the Brussels networking organisation Idealist Quarterly. Her address will focus on the topic of ‘Does Europe still need feminism? Thoughts from an Irish activist’. This event will take place at 6pm at Les Chemin des Vignes, Rue d’Idalie 27, 1050 Brussels.
Council of Europe Conference
Following her engagements in Brussels tomorrow, Ms. Smyth will be in Strasbourg next week, where she will address the Council of Europe’s Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) next Tuesday, 27th June, at 1pm at the Palais de L’Europe, Strasbourg, France.
The Conference of INGOs is the chief representative body of INGOs and meets twice a year with the aim of increasing civic engagement across all EU member states.
At next Tuesday’s event, Ms. Smyth will contribute to a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Women’s Mobilisation in Europe 2017: What Impact on Policies’.
Commenting ahead of her European engagements, Ailbhe Smyth said: “The Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment has over 90 organisations, representing 1.5 million Irish people. We are the largest ever social movement focused on abortion rights in Ireland, and our growing size is indicative of the importance of this issue to people across the country.
“In most European countries, women are afforded access to reproductive healthcare, with the health, safety and wellbeing of pregnant women at the centre of all medical decisions.
“The issue of abortion in Ireland has been very much to the fore in the past week, with several sad cases such as the sectioning of a child seeking an abortion, a woman forced to travel to England to access abortion after discovering she was carrying a fatal foetal abnormality, and the case of two women who had attempted suicide and were refused access to abortion. Ireland is seriously out of step with other European States on this issue and, if recent events have taught us anything, it’s that the women of Ireland cannot wait any longer to be given full access to abortion services and to have their human rights respected. I look forward to briefing MEPs and European organisations on the current situation in Ireland over the coming week.”
Article in The Times Ireland today is yet another indictment of Ireland’s failure to respect women’s rights and to ensure their safety
The disturbing case of two women who had attempted suicide and were turned down abortions in Ireland is yet another example of why a referendum on abortion in Ireland is urgently required. That’s according to the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, responding to an article in The Times Ireland today (20.06.2017).
Commenting today, Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: “It is extremely disturbing to hear of the cases of two women who had attempted suicide and were refused access to abortions. This is yet another indictment of Ireland’s failure to provide basic and crucial healthcare to women and girls, and is a flagrant violation of their rights.
“The fact that the two women were immigrants further highlights that the Eighth Amendment hurts the most vulnerable people in of our society. This disgraceful situation must end, and the Eighth Amendment should be removed from our Constitution immediately. It is encouraging to see Minister for Health, Simon Harris, confirming his commitment to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018, but what we need now is a clear timeframe for this referendum. As we have seen last week and again today, the safety of women and girls is at risk. We urgently need a referendum.”
– Rallies to Repeal to take place this Saturday in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kerry –
Newly-elected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must stick to his commitment to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018. That’s according to the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, which is organising a series of rallies across the country this Saturday, 17th June.
Commenting today (15.07.2017), Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: “Ahead of the rallies taking place nationwide this Saturday, we’re calling on our new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to stand by his commitment that there will be a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018. We are calling for a date to be set for early 2018. There can be absolutely no further delays on this issue, and we will be holding the new Taoiseach to this commitment.
“The events of this week have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ireland’s reproductive health services are failing women and girls appallingly. In the past few days, we’ve seen the sectioning of a child; Ireland’s severe condemnation by the UN for causing intolerable suffering to women and girls; and statistics on the thousands of Irish women forced to travel to England and Wales to obtain an abortion. This demonstrates once again how we, as a country, continue to bury our heads in the sand, and export the entire issue.
“The statistics on the number of women and girls travelling from Ireland to the UK show clearly that women do need and should be able to access abortion services here in Ireland. This week has proved yet again that the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act 2013 is worse than useless in responding to the real-life needs of women and girls here in this country. The Eighth Amendment is a massive and outdated barrier to the health, safety, and human rights of girls and women. As long as it remains in the Constitution, horrific and traumatic cases will continue to occur every year with sad and deeply disturbing predictability.
“The Eighth Amendment has to go, and should be repealed in its entirety. Now, as he takes up his new role, the Taoiseach must show his mettle and act decisively to end this disgraceful disregard for the lives of women and girls in Ireland by setting a date for an early 2018 referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.”
Marches for Repeal in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kerry
Ms. Smyth was commenting ahead of a series of rallies scheduled to take place across the country this Saturday, 17th June. The rallies will take place at the following locations:
A new Cork branch of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment was officially launched at a press conference in Cork today (14.06.2017). The Cork branch is the first regional branch of the Coalition to be established.
Commenting on the launch, Kathy D’Arcy, member of the Cork Coalition, said: “The Cork Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment emerged from a shared recognition of the need – and the demand – for Cork to have its own campaign on the issue of reproductive justice. The branch is made up of people from all walks of life who have come together because we are all concerned with repealing the Eighth Amendment. It is time for the Government to face up to the very serious harm and damage done by the Eighth Amendment to women all over Ireland, and to call a constitutional referendum.
“The Cork Coalition and our member groups will be running events throughout the summer, including family-friendly fun days, letter writing parties, music and arts events and open meetings. There is a growing base in Cork of people who support repealing the Eighth Amendment, and the Cork Coalition looks forward to bringing these voices to the national stage.”
Also commenting on the launch of the Cork branch was Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment: “The Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment warmly welcomes the formation of a Cork branch of the Coalition. It’s of huge importance to us that we represent the voices of women and men from every corner of Ireland, and it’s immensely encouraging to see the movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment gaining such momentum nationally and at great speed.”
Cork March to Repeal the Eighth Amendment
The Cork Coalition are organising a march in Cork this Saturday, 17th June, to coincide with the Rallies to Repeal the Eighth Amendment taking place in Galway and Dublin. The march in Cork will commence at 1.30pm at Grand Parade, assembling in front of Cork City Library, and march through the city before re-assembling at Grand Parade. Following the march, a number of guest speakers will address attendees on the theme of ‘After the Citizens’ Assembly, Abortion Rights Now!’.
– For the second time the UN Human Rights Committee finds Ireland’s abortion laws cruel and inhuman –
The Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment welcomes the UN Human Rights Committee’s findings against Ireland in the Whelan v Ireland case, details of which were published today (13.06.2017). The Committee ruled in favour of Siobhán Whelan, who was denied access to abortion services in Ireland after being diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality and was forced to travel outside of Ireland in order to have an abortion.
Commenting in response to the UN Human Rights Committee’s findings, Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: “This is the second time in under a year that the UN Human Rights Committee has found that Ireland’s abortion laws subject women to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, violate their human rights to privacy and equality, and contravene international law. The criminalisation and prohibition of abortion in Ireland denied Ms. Whelan access to basic healthcare in her own country, forcing her to travel abroad, further increasing her extreme suffering and causing her significant trauma. We greatly admire her bravery in taking her case to the UNCHR. Having been subjected to such unnecessary additional pain and hardship, it is appalling that the only pathway open to Siobhán Whelan to achieve recognition of the wrong done to her was through the international human rights process.
“Today’s decision is a vindication of Siobhán Whelan’s human rights and comes almost a year after the Committee’s decision in favour of Amanda Mellet, which found unequivocally that Ireland’s abortion laws discriminate against women. Until Ireland’s abortion laws are changed, women in Ireland will continue to experience severe violation of their human rights. There can be no equality when women in Ireland do not have full control over all aspects of their healthcare, including reproductive healthcare and access to abortion services in Ireland. The Government must act immediately on the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly and enable a constitutional referendum to take place. Until law reform occurs women’s health and wellbeing will continue to be compromised and endangered by Irish laws on abortion.”
A country where a suicidal pregnant child is sectioned instead of being provided with an abortion is surely one of the worst places in which to be a child. That’s according to the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, who are this morning (12.06.2017) responding to the Irish Times article on the sectioning of a young girl in need of an abortion.
Commenting on the article, Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: “The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding Observations on Ireland, published in 2016, expressed deep concern at Ireland’s abortion laws, and how they impact on the lives of children in Ireland. The report explicitly recommended that abortion be decriminalised in all circumstances so as to ensure that children have access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services, and crucially, that the views of the pregnant girl are always heard and respected in abortion decisions.
“This morning’s report that a young girl was sectioned instead of being provided with an abortion, is a deeply distressing example of the very real and damaging effects of Ireland’s abortion laws. That a young girl, at risk of self-harm and suicide as a result of her pregnancy, was denied basic medical care is intolerable. A recent report by ‘Save The Children’ listed Ireland as one of the top countries in the world in which to be a child. This shameful case surely shows it is one of the worst.”
It is shocking that there is no reference to the widening of abortion services in the National Women’s Strategy published today (03.05.2017) given the current visibility and urgency of this key healthcare and equality issue, according to the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment.
The National Women’s Strategy 2017 – 2020 was published today by the Department of Justice and Equality. Commenting in reaction to the Strategy, Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: “The publication of a new National Women’s Strategy is a significant development, and it is of course hugely important that the Strategy deals with key issues such as the gender pay gap, pension gap, violence against women, and women in leadership. The aim of the Strategy is to enable women in Ireland achieve equality with men. However, there can be no equality when women in Ireland do not have full control over all aspects of their healthcare.
“It is bizarre that the Strategy makes no reference to the widening of abortion services, beyond a bland mention of the forthcoming report by the Citizen’s Assembly. We are at a loss to understand why there are no recommendations made in the Strategy that the Government set a date for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment and enacts the Citizens’ Assembly’s recent recommendations in legislation.
“The Strategy aims to be a key policy document to create ‘an Ireland where all women enjoy equality with men and can achieve their full potential while enjoying a safe and fulfilling life’. As the Strategy was launched, at least ten women are being forced to travel outside of Ireland to access abortion, with more buying abortion pills online. These women are criminalised, face unnecessary trauma and stigma and put their physical and mental health at risk because they cannot access abortions in Ireland amongst their friends and family. This fact alone goes against the very aim of the National Women’s Strategy to allow women in Ireland to live safe lives.
“The Citizens’ Assembly showed that when Irish people are given the information, research-based evidence and the time and space to discuss women’s reproductive needs, including abortion, they overwhelmingly choose to do what is best for women’s safety, health and wellbeing. The Joint Oireachtas Committee will shortly begin its meetings to consider the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and to report in turn to the Dáil. They have a wealth of fact-based evidence and testimonies from the Citizens’ Assembly proceedings and submissions to support them in their work.
“We urge them now to get on with the job, to recommend that a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment be held in early 2018, and that legislation should ensure that women have access to abortion in Ireland.”
Response to Minister Richard Bruton’s comments
Commenting in reaction to Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton’s comments that the Government is not bound to the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations, Ailbhe Smyth said: “We are surprised to hear Minister Bruton back-peddling on the recommendations made by the Government’s own Citizens’ Assembly, and we are very concerned that this will pre-empt the work of the Joint Oireachtas Committee”.
“Do you remember the massive campaign of public opposition?”
Burton “which one?”
Barrister highlights the 6 cuts highlighted in tesco ad – ‘were these implemented ?’ Burton “I’m not about the car tax but the rest of them were”
5/6 ain’t bad!!
Burton tries to go into a Dail-style waffle answer, barrister interrupts “sorry but you didn’t actually answer the question”
Burton tries to say Troika made them do water charges, pointed out no water charges when troika left.