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NEWS: Austerity measures hit water services in Ireland

Joe Higgins and Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew, Strasbourg, France, January 2011.

Joe Higgins and Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew, Strasbourg, France, January 2011.

On November 28, 2010, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the Irish state agreed to a €85 billion loan to Ireland, including €22.5 billion from the IMF. We are beginning to see more of the consequences of that loan with respect to water in Ireland.

Company to run water system
Today, the Irish Times reports, “(Irish) Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has said the establishment of Irish Water will be the biggest change in the development of utilities in the State since the setting up of (Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board). Mr Hogan said that the Government had decided yesterday the company will be operated by Bord Gáis Éireann as an independent State-owned subsidiary and would remain in public ownership. …He said Irish Water would be set up on an interim basis as legislation would be needed to put it on a statutory basis.”

Bord Gáis Éireann (in English, the Irish Gas Board) is the main supplier and distributor of pipeline natural gas in the Republic of Ireland. Bord Gáis Éireann was established as a semi-state company by the Irish government in 1975 to replace a series of private-sector small city-based gas companies. In 1976, it was converted into a statutory corporation.

Water meters
Additionally, “Speaking at a press conference at Government Buildings following yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the Minister said the programme to install water meters in more than one million Irish households would be ’90-95 per cent’ completed by the end of 2014. …The introduction of water charges is a condition of the memorandum of understanding agreed with the international troika as part of the bailout programme.”

“(The minister) confirmed that the National Pensions Reserve Fund would lend €450 million to Irish Water to install meters and to establish operations, and that the costs of those would probably be passed on to customers by way of a standing charge over a period of 20 years. …Some 300,000 households will not be included in the initial phase of the meters, including apartments. He also confirmed the charge would only apply to public water schemes, and those households which are part of private group water schemes would not have to pay water charges.”

In June 2011, we noted in a campaign blog that Irish media had reported, “(Sinn Féin) Environment Spokesperson Deputy Brian Stanley said (in the Dáil, the lower house of the Irish parliament, in Dublin) that the (Fine Gael and Labour coalition) government must abandon its plans to charge people for water which is a basic human right.” Currently, Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that does not have domestic water charges (instead costs are covered through the central taxation system and water charges on businesses). But, according to an Anglo-Celt report, “A spokesman for the Department of the Environment (says), ‘The water charges have to be in place before the end of 2013 to comply with the IMF bailout conditions.’” In June 2010, the Irish Examiner reported, “Socialist Party MEP for Dublin Joe Higgins said working people will stage ‘a huge campaign of non-payment and opposition’.” In February 2011, Higgins was elected to the Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Irish parliament) for the Dublin West constituency.

Our right to water report
For more on the impacts of austerity measures and water privatization on the human right to water in Greece, Portgual, Spain, Italy and Bulgaria, please see the ‘Europe’ report by the Blue Planet Project, Food and Water Watch, the European Federation of Public Service Unions and Public Services International Research Unit, http://canadians.org/RTW. An earlier campaign blog about austerity and water meters in Ireland can be found at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9389. For a recent blog on privatized water in the United Kingdom, see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13343.