Do not hit ‘snooze’.
It’s Mercille on Monday at 9.32am.
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
Governments are not moral entities. Water charges policing has given us quite a few demonstrations.
This week the government announced that it is moving to introduce new legislation allowing Irish Water to collect the water charges from those who refuse to pay from their welfare payments or wages.
The government says this will only apply to those who do not want to pay, as opposed to those who are not able to pay. But how do you determine if someone is truly not able to pay, or refuses to pay?
Who knows, but we can bet it will involve hiring an army of consultants and lawyers to ponder over the question, come up with a (flawed) scheme, implement it, monitor it, review it, etc.
The cabinet has also approved a proposal that those who haven’t paid their water charges will not be able to sell their house until they pay what they owe Irish Water. Finally, another plan is to allow landlords to deduct the charges from tenants’ deposits.
Such measures reveal how authoritarian and anti-democratic the government is. It will simply come up with any scheme needed to do what it wants to do.
The government spin on the new measures is that they are “good news” because they mean that nobody will be jailed for not paying the water charges.
That this is presented as a generous move displays the very low standards of morality which characterise the Irish state. While at it, we should also rejoice that imprisonment for life has also been ruled out for those who won’t pay the charges.
Justice is elusive in this state. Punishment is reserved for those who oppose government power, whereas those who defend it are handsomely rewarded and live comfortably. In recent weeks we have witnessed, among other things:
– Six police officers going to Paul Murphy’s house before 7am to arrest him without warning. Three others were also taken in relation to Joan Burton’s two-hour captivity in her car. In total, 23 people were arrested following the Jobstown protest.
– Five protesters were given jail sentences for 56 days (Damien O’Neill, Paul Moore) and for 28 days (Bernie Hughes, Derek Byrne, Michael Batty) for crossing a 20-meter perimeter around the workers installing water meters (they were freed after a little more than two weeks in jail).
– Joan Collins TD was arrested along with 12 others for demonstrating as Irish Water was installing a meter.
And we can add to this: arrests related to Shannon airport while government officials still roam free even if facilitating US militarism; the fact that bankers who played a direct role in bringing about the economic crisis are still free while banks are attempting to repossess thousands of ordinary people’s houses across the state; that TDs and ministers who have shattered the lives of so many by implementing austerity are either still in office or comfortably going about their business.
This only confirms the pattern that the rule of law is political and geared towards protecting those in power.
Indeed, some Garda leaders seem aware of the political nature of the policing going on in the state. In a job interview, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan asked a candidate about his views on “left wing political extremism in Ireland” and on left wing politicians. The candidate said he was “taken aback” and “uncomfortable” with such types of questions, and understandably so.
Moreover, the Garda Representative Association complained that there was a “sinister and dangerous element” in the protest movement and that “anti-water-charge protests are taking valuable resources away from the investigation of crime”— excluding state crimes, of course.
The Garda Association said it wanted to be better armed, for example with Uzi submachine guns and Taser guns. That’s worrying.
When she got arrested, Joan Collins TD said “I break laws that are immoral”. This is seen as outrageous by respectable politicians, but in that, it only follows a long tradition of peaceful civil disobedience which has won rights for people around the world. Many have made similar statements, of which a sample:
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
“If it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law.”
–Henry David Thoreau
These are people who, if still alive, would be at the water protests—and would probably all be arrested.
@JulienMercille is lecturer at UCD and the author of The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland (2015, Routledge). His new book, Europe’s Treasure Ireland (Palgrave), will be out in July 2015.