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Joint Committee in Ireland to vote on water charges, March 7-8

The Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in Ireland will vote on the issue of water charges on either March 7 or March 8.

This Joint Committee was established in November 2016 to consider the report by the Expert Commission on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services and to make a recommendation to both Houses — the Dáil Éireann (lower house) and Seanad Éireann (upper house) — of the Oireachtas (the Irish legislature).

Right2Water Ireland highlights, “So far 10 members of the 20 person water committee have committed to scrapping water charges and ending the domestic metering process. If one more member abstains or votes to scrap the charges, the Dail will be instructed to end metering and end water charges for good.”

An intensive campaign is now underway to convince two members of that committee — Senator Grace O’Sullivan of the Civic Engagement Group and Deputy Noel Grealish, Independent TD (Teachta Dála, a member of Dáil Éireann) for Galway West — to vote to scrap water charges.

That campaign argues, “The real agenda behind water charges is privatization. Should the metering process continue, there is no doubt that our water would be privatized in the future.” It also notes, “Article 1.9 of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) could provide for the privatization of our water in the future and having meters in place would facilitate this.”

Right2Water Ireland asks, “Please sign this petition and share with everyone you know. We only have days to protect our human right to water and prevent future water poverty.”

In terms of background, Maude Barlow explains, “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.”

Irish Water began sending bills to homes in January 2015, but that was suspended in July 2016 to allow for the Commission and the Committee to consider the future of water charges. Barlow notes, “Water resources are abundant in Ireland, and until the creation of the new utility, water services for residents had been delivered free of charge. Costs were paid for through tax revenues and by charging commercial users.”

In September 2016, Blue Planet Project director Meera Karunananthan made a submission to the Commission.

Karunananthan wrote, “The setting up of Irish water and a compulsory metering strategy aimed at cost recovery are signature strategies of the World Bank and regional development banks to prime public utilities for private sector participation. Devoid of human rights and public interest considerations the proposal to reform the Irish public model in order to introduce commercial practices is a frequently used strategy for incentivizing private investors.”

The Commission presented its report in late-November and recommended that normal water usage for households be paid through general taxation not through water charges. However, the Commission also recommended that an allowance for domestic water use should be calculated on the basis of the number of people living in the home and that a charge should levied for “wasteful” usage. Right2Water Ireland counters, “Irish people are not wasteful with their water. In fact, we use less water than almost any other country in the EU consuming 25% less water than countries like the UK where they’ve had metered charges for almost 30 years.”

The Ottawa-based Blue Planet Project first expressed its solidarity with our Irish water allies on this issue in October 2014.