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Barlow to speak on the right to water in Ireland, Feb. 13

Barlow meets with Right2Water Ireland activists.

Barlow met with Right2Water Ireland activists in Dublin in November 2015.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be speaking at a major conference of about 800 people in Dublin, Ireland on Feb. 13.

The Right2Water/ Right2Change conference will be focused on various social justice issues, notably the right to water.

In her book Blue Future, Barlow wrote, “In May 2011 the government of Ireland signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union to reform its water sector to comply with strict new austerity measures. The government then established a public water utility called Irish Water, with a clear mandate to operate as a private company. In exchange for an 85-billion-euro bailout for the country, the MOU required that ‘public provision of water services is to end and this function is to be transferred to a utility company’, and it further committed Ireland to move toward full cost recovery through water metering.”

People in the Republic of Ireland are now required to pay for their water through the usage recorded by mandatory water meters, rather than through their taxes as they had done before. The first bills were issued in April 2015. They range from about Cdn $230 a year for a single-person household to about Cdn $370 for a family of four adults. The charges were originally going to be as high as about $850 per year for some families. Failure to make payments last year meant a Cdn $50 fine for a one-person household, a Cdn $95 fine for all other households. About 1.8 million people in Ireland – close to half the population – have less than Cdn $159 left every month after expenses.

After a series of massive protests, the government agreed to cap water charges until 2018. Right to water organizers have rejected this concession as insufficient, demanding instead that water metering be scrapped entirely. Right2Change coordinator David Gibney has stated that water is a human right and should not be dependent on income.

The Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny leads the Fine Gael party, governs in coalition with the Labour party, and supports the water charges. The Anti-Austerity Alliance, led by the Socialist Party, and Sinn Fein oppose the water charges. On Jan. 18, Bloomberg reported, “Ireland’s ruling coalition suffered a setback as two opinion polls showed its support dropping with a general election approaching.” Polls put the Fine Gael-Labour alliance at about 37-39 per cent popularity. It is believed that the governing alliance would need about 44 per cent to win the next election. Polls show that Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein would win combined support of about 37 per cent.

Water charges are likely to be the central issue in the next general election which must take place before April 3 this year. That election is now expected to take place in late-February (with Feb. 26 the likely date). Barlow has also been invited to write an article on water justice for a special newspaper being produced ahead of the election. Right2Change will be distributing 100,000 copies of that newspaper to voters.