A Programme For Irish Water



Former Socialist Party MEP Catherine O’Neill and Paul Murphy TD at an  Irish Water demonstration in 2014; Dr Julien Mercille

The Irish Water model wants to shift the burden onto ordinary people via water charges. But a better option is to fund water services via progressive general taxation, like any other public service.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Irish Water and water charges have resurfaced as the political parties are attempting to form a government.

Some in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have even suggested that they would be open to consider scrapping the charges and perhaps even Irish Water itself.

Of course, a lot of that is probably just fluff to pretend they care about what the electorate wants, but nevertheless, it is possible that the next government might have to adopt a more lenient approach towards water charges if it hopes to generate the required popular support to govern with some stability.

This remains to be seen, but the debate of the last few days has been very interesting.

It reveals that people power does work, and it shows once again the hypocrisy of the establishment and the media in covering water issues. The points I would make are as follows:

1. Protest and civil disobedience do work: the reason why the main parties are now reconsidering charging us for water is because they don’t want trouble in the streets.

So we can thank all the community groups and people like Paul Murphy TD and Joan Collins TD who participated in the protests. It’s interesting that some on the Left, even the radical Left, have been reluctant to support civil disobedience.

But guess what: this is how rights are won. Marches and speeches could be organised every day of the year but it wouldn’t change a thing. Those in power can live with that and will even encourage marches and speeches since they’re quite ineffective and they give the impression that the government is open to hear different points of view.

Also, over the last few days, there has been a flurry of hypocritical arguments from the government and media about the dangers of abolishing Irish Water and scrapping water charges, such as:

2. “If we abolish Irish Water we’ll go back to the inefficient system of running water services by the 40 or so Local Authorities, which is an uncoordinated and costly system”:

This is so ridiculous that you can be pretty sure that whoever says that is being disingenuous. The truth is that abolishing Irish Water has nothing to do with going back to the Local Authorities. It means keeping a centralised, national system, which does provide better coordination and efficiency.

But that national body should be a public body, not a semi-state commercial body like Irish Water. The difference is that Irish Water is commercial and charges for water, whereas a simple public body, which could be called the National Water Authority, is not commercial in nature and remains in public hands, and can’t be privatised down the line, as Irish Water could be.

3. “If we abolish Irish Water, its workers will have to be fired and we won’t be able to invest enough in our crappy water infrastructure”.

Oh wow. Since when does the government actually care about people losing their jobs and the lack of investment in our infrastructure?

Since 2008, under austerity, the main parties have raised the unemployment rate and cut public spending. Now that their beloved Irish Water is under threat, they suddenly pretend to care about those things…

In any case, if Irish Water became a public body, its staff with expertise in running a water system would stay. It is the useless marketing bureaucrats, legal advisors and overpaid executives who would have to find a job elsewhere.

The issue of investment is important, however. It is true that our water infrastructure needs investment. The reason is because under austerity, the government has refused to fund it adequately.

This is the standard tactic to privatise public assets: first, underfund a public body; second, when it is collapsing because it is underfunded, cry out loud that it’s a scandal that our infrastructure is so bad and that we need the private “efficient” sector to fix it; third, privatise it, even if there’s usually not much difference at all in efficiency between the public and private sectors—in fact, the private sector is in important cases less efficient (e.g., health care).

The central issue is: How should water services be funded? The Irish Water model wants to shift the burden onto ordinary people via water charges. But a better option is to fund water services via progressive general taxation, like any other public service. The reason why the government never mentions that is because it means taxing the rich to fund services for everybody.

If the provision of water services remains in public hands, the government could also borrow cheaply on the markets to invest in infrastructure via a National Water Authority. However, the proponents of Irish Water say it would be better to set up Irish Water as a commercial semi-state and have it borrow on the markets and keep all that off the government’s balance sheet.

The problem with this is that it would mean charging us all for water instead of using general taxation. It is therefore better to make general taxation more progressive, to implement a wealth tax, and to tax businesses a little more (to bring them on a par with the norm in Europe, so we’re not talking about being unfair to businesses here) and to use that money to fund water services.

The Right2Water movement has a detailed explanation of how this could be done here and the economist Michael Taft has a similar explanation here.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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78 thoughts on “A Programme For Irish Water

  1. Harry Molloy

    “Oh wow. Since when does the government actually care about people losing their jobs and the lack of investment in our infrastructure?”

    Do you write these columns on your commute or something Juliene?

          1. dav

            should have said only a slight improvement on season 3, which was a disappointment on season 2, which was excellent.

  2. b

    “The Irish Water model wants to shift the burden onto ordinary people via water charges”

    ordinary people? as opposed to taxpayers?

  3. Donal

    This “fund it out of general taxation” is a bullpoo argument.

    What happens to general taxation during a recession? it drops

    What happens to the need for investment in water infrastructure during a recession? it stays the same

    Result: During recessions we don’t invest in water infrastructure

    Solution: a recession-proof revenue stream for water… just like we have for electricity – that everyone pays and we have one of the best electricity systems in the world

    1. 15 cents

      “we have one of the best electricity systems in the world” .. lol
      we have power cuts all over the country as soon as there’s a gust of wind.

    2. ahjayzis

      What happens to household income during a recession? It also drops.

      Difference is you’ll be bringing the unemployed to court for not paying a tax that takes no account of consumption, income, or personal circumstance.

      By your logic why don’t we abolish all income tax and institute a flat charge of a few thousand a year regardless of income so we’re totally recession proof? Since progressive taxation is suddenly so unstable.

    1. Paul

      Jesus weeps at these ramblings. It is quite evident that this dude Julian is a complete spoofer. Well done to the talentless Irish media for giving him a platform to showcase his waffle.

      1. dav

        calm down blushirts, I’m sure all will be better once you’ve knifed enda in the back after thursday.

          1. dav

            better than the mood down in merrion square, have you decided if you’ll bne sucking up to simon or leo yet??

  4. DubLoony

    Any change to ownership of Irish Water, either abolish or privatise needs to be voted on. Water Services Act 2014. paragraph 2.

    Water is used by everyone and right now there is no incentive to conserve potable water.

    1. Rob_G

      If Mercille et al. were to follow their arguments to their logical conclusion, surely there should be no user charges for gas and electricity, with everything paid for through income tax?

      1. Cup of tea anyone?

        Can you imagine if gas or electricity was paid by progressive general taxation. Every house would be a well lit furnace of bright lights and heat.

        The wastage would be unbelievable.

        1. classter

          ‘cept that, in relative terms, there has been feck all explotiation of oil nor gas from Irish waters

          How does that tie in with your theory?

  5. Cup of tea anyone?

    Julien is right to a point but I think after a few years when a greater analysis can be done on water usage around the country, There should be a fine for using over a certain amount.

    I think it should find out what the average family uses and then give 90% of that in allowances. anything used over that should be paid for.

    People shouldnt pay for water, But they should pay for wasting it.

    1. Harry Molloy

      That’s a compromise I could get on board with.

      We have already seen that, after the installation of meters, there was houses who learned that they had literally millions of liters of water leaking underneath their homes. That needs to be stopped.

    2. ahjayzis

      I’m totally on board with charging so long as a totally normal level of usage is free – since direct taxation already contributes.

      I don’t want a situation where things like a daily shower becomes a luxury if someone’s out of a job.

  6. makedoanmend

    Horrible arguments made in this article.

    Free the free markets!

    Of course we need a few rich owners and their investment bank advisors in control so that the general public, who are mostly irresponsible, naive and often just plain horrible, don’t use too much water. How dare they presume to use water that falls from the sky. Only markets can own water. Silly writer.

    Think of the environment. That’s what markets do. Markets are really hidden-hand environmentalists – unless profits are inhibitied – then the environment… – not so much.

    Others have pointed out that “literally millions” of liters of water under just ONE house have gone to waste. No source cited, but hey. Was this “millions” wasted in a week, months, years and where is this house. Think of all the lovely lolly in profit that has gone to waste.

    Another cites that 90% of water is probably used properly. Any citation? Nah.

    Thank jebbus and the free hand for the comments section. They set this writer straight.

    Profit uber alles. Will somebody, anybody, think of the poor millionaires and billionaires. How will they survive without Irish water. How did we ever survive before the arrival of supermillionaire. Did water exist before the millionaires/billionaires?

        1. dav

          i hear yez were all sucking up to cammeron for his election advice, so now blushirt/tory are now the same

  7. Anomanomanom

    I stopped at the part about Thanking Murphy and Collins. You clearly don’t know anything about either of them.

      1. Anomanomanom

        Typical nonsensical answer. When you actually know anything about them then comment. Murphy and Collins are everything that can be wrong with independents.

          1. Anomanomanom

            Yes of course we all get told what to think by done mythical being. Again don’t comment/troll till you actually know what your talking.

          2. dav

            coming from a shill that spouts “Murphy and Collins are everything that can be wrong with independents.” lolz

    1. Anne

      Maybe he likes Dr. Dre.

      I don’t quite get the irony though.. Are you talking out of your hoop again Rotsy.

  8. newsjustin

    So should other vital utilise such as electricity and natural gas be free at the point of use and paid for from general taxation too?

    1. dav

      we’ve already given away our natural gas, so we now pay for it at the high market rates, have you any billionaires in mind to give away our water to?

      1. newsjustin

        So you’d have preferred the state spent hundreds of millions developing the small handful of gas fields we have and then give it to us for free? How would we fund the next field? Would businesses get the gas for free? Up to the start of this year, we were importing 90% of our gas. Who would you propose pay for that? If I get my gas and electricity for free, why would I bother investing in energy saving appliances or building repairs? Sure all the energy is free?

        1. newsjustin

          By the way, I’m in favour of a good public utility owning and managing water systems in a Ireland – with no prospect of a private sale. But even a public utility has to fund itself AND figure out a way to encourage responsible use.

        2. dav

          See Norway – that’s how a state stands up for it’s citizens and doesn’t give it’s resources away for a song.

          1. Rob_G

            Norway had/has millions of barrels of oil and gas that were reasonably to access; Ireland is not as attractive a proposition for oil companies.

          2. dav

            Still Ireland is a democracy, as is Norway, yet the Nowargian government stands up for it’s citizens whilst the irish government does not

          3. Rob_G

            Are you implying that Ireland is less of a democracy than Ireland? I am fairly certain that a number of parties in Ireland proposed nationalising our (tiny) energy industries; they just didn’t garner that many votes.

          4. dav

            No, I am STATING that the Norwegian Government stands up for it’s citizens, the Irish government just lines it’s own pockets and screws over it’s own citizens.

          5. Clampers Outside!


            The answer to that is simple. We had two choices….

            1. Leave it in the ground until it is viable to take out and be used by ourselves for the benefit of the country.

            2. The current system, which is basically… give it to some oil company to take out, and if we cross our fingers and put honest faith in the oil companies they will pay tax on the profits, if there are any. We just have to have faith they won’t cook the books of the costs like they have done everywhere else.

            If the people were given the choice, which one do you think they would have gone for?

            I know Norway is sitting on a tonne of other deposits that are as costly as Ireland’s to have removed… what did Norway do with them? Sell them off?
            No… they’re sitting on them until they are viable.

  9. Owen C

    “But a better option is to fund water services via progressive general taxation, like any other public service.”

    Is electricity a public service too?


    The more logical argument is that the network is a public service (ie you do not need to pay to get connected), but you should still pay for quantity of service you use.

    Also, is water a public service or a human right? Make up your mind.

  10. ollie

    I hate the mudding of the water between the company and the funding.

    1. Irish Water is a disaster. Over paid management (120 Audi A6 cars bought), overstaffed with employees (twice the UK number of employees on 1.5 times the average salary). The great cost savings that have been promised are to be achieved by mass redundancies, paid for not by the local authorities who employed these workers for years but by the “customers” of Irish Water. The CEO of Irish Water has a track record of wastage of public money and the Company has constantly lied to the public.
    A slimmed down management company is required, staffed by experts, not cronies.
    2. The funding model is a disaster. Don’t forget FG original plan was to charge the “customer” the highest rate in Europe. After the protests, this charging model was amended and is now a total mess, as was proven by Eurostat. Even the Taoiseach now refers to water charges as a tax.

    What’s needed is funding from general taxation for infrastructure upgrades, with 100% metering and a free allowance that everyone can achieve. Even a standing charge, set at say €50 a year and guaranteed not to increase by more than inflation plus 1% a year would guarantee an income.
    Currently any money raised from residential water charges is spent on collection of the money.
    Also we have already paid for water; development levies, motor tax, vat, the raiding of the pension fund have all been used to fund Irish Water. We have a company owned by Denis O’Brien getting paid €300 to install a water meter worth €20 that could have been fitted within most houses in 20 minutes.

    Appointing an idiot like Alan Kelly to manage this didn’t help, this is the man who promised 150 modular houses by January 2016 and still hasn’t managed to deliver a single one, oversaw the awarding of a contract to a company alleged to have build dangerous schools in Dublin, and then quietly cancelled the contract last week.

    There’s another element to this that has yet to be tested, and I suspect that it would fail. Is it legal to bill someone for a product without a contract existing?

    1. Cup of tea anyone?

      Regarding the legality of billing without a contract. I think that they could follow the same laws that govern the TV license. People who don’t sign up don’t have a contract, but that does not stand out in court. They still have to pay and can end up in the joy for a night.

      1. Harry Molloy

        The contract piece is really simple. By availing of the service, it’s implied consent. Directly comparable with picking up an item in the shop – you don’t walk out without paying.

        1. Anne

          By that logic, people were also consenting to the service whereby there were no direct charges.

          The issue is not the availing of the service, but the direct charges.. and the jobs for the boys, and the perks, the gravy train and the all round general farce.

          That’s just arrogance.. you consent to charges by using water.
          Should we be paying for every public service separately as well as having high income tax, high cost of living with vat, massive rents, high interest mortgage rates?

          Irish greed has no bounds.. a tenner in tolls I paid there over the weekend, before filing up my car – most of which goes to the government, and I just paid my road tax for 6 months, which was close to 300 squid.

          Why am I paying tolls for private companies to make hundreds of millions, when I’m already paying massive car tax and vat on petrol? Same logic and all you can come up with, you consent the minute you use the roads.. fupp ta fupp off.

        2. ollie

          So Harry if I shove a twix in your letterbox tonight will you pay me for it, and the cost of my car, health insurance, and my bonus?

          1. Harry Molloy

            that’s such a stupid comment. I’m sorry but it’s really stupid.

            I think everyone should read chapter 1 of any contract law book…

            Anne, all good arguments, it’s just the no consent argument that’s thick

    2. DubLoony

      Agree that the management need a severe overhaul. The corporate boxes in Croke Park were stupid beyond words.
      There needs to be serious oversight of this utility to focus all attention on primary function of providing clean drinkign water and safe removal of waste water.

      As for they “we already Paid for it” – we need clean water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is something that we have a constant need for, it is not a fixed item like a piece of furniture.


    1. dav

      gutsy opinion, now prepare yourself for blushirt attacks – akin to a blubottle attack but they are dirtier tan any blublottle

        1. dav

          neah, I’ve spelt blushirt exactly as I’ve always have. takk to your yungblushirt mates, they will tell ye

  11. Anne

    I agree with Mmmmmmmmmercille.. What was he saying anyway?
    I don’t mind what he says, he gets my vote like.

    Just messin’. Where was I? Ok concentrate…

    The state endorsed propaganda on this has been farcical. 7 billion to wind it down my hoop. Shur what’s 7 billion these days? Even if it was anything close to that.. Only a Nama transaction or two.

    120 Audis someone mentioned above there.. Jesus Fupping Christ on a bike.

    And I told the mother not to bother paying her water charges, (she’s an OAP on her own like) with Irish Water being the farce that it is. It being an exercise in incompetence, that it’d be gone sooner or later.

    You could always think of your payment as a donation to some of those Audis I suppose.
    You wouldn’t see that carry on from the wealthiest fortune 500 companies ffs.

  12. J

    I read as far as “Of course, a lot of that is probably just fluff to pretend they care about what the electorate wants” . I then played with my dolls.

  13. Paul

    “But guess what: this is how rights are won. Marches and speeches could be organised every day of the year but it wouldn’t change a thing. Those in power can live with that and will even encourage marches and speeches since they’re quite ineffective and they give the impression that the government is open to hear different points of view.” = DO NOT SEND MY KID TO UCD

  14. Jake38

    “But a better option is to fund water services via progressive general taxation, like any other public service…..”.

    God, what piffle. No impetus to conserve water of course. And just wait for the next recession. Investment “from taxation” will plummet as the pols decide no-one can actually see a pipe in the ground so that’s a good target for cutbacks . Maybe this loon could actually look at the roads and see what I mean.

  15. stephen

    What annoys me about all this is that water charges has become the crux of the matter. Fupp water charges, we have a health system in ruins, massive housing issues (both social and people who just want to but a first house), whilst unemployment is dropping there is still massive under-employment (zero-hour contracts and the likes) and yet the crux of government discussions is Water Charges. There are far more important issues that need to be fixed

  16. Clampers Outside!

    “General taxation” collection and then pooling all these taxes into one big trough to be divvied up is the reason the water system was under funded and fupped in the first place.

    Does Julien have some new way that the pooling of taxes via general taxation and divvying it up from the trough has some how improved magically over night…..? If he did, I might listen, but he doesn’t. So, why go back to funding it in a manner everyone knows has not worked before….. what’s changed to make him think it will work this time?

    1. Cup of tea anyone?

      I think he is talking about getting rid of the quango that is Irish water and creating a national fully public division that will consolidate all of the local authorities and oversee the work done.

      so basically the same structure as IW but without the high paying jobs for the boys and all the benefits. Funded through general taxation.

    2. Anne

      “General taxation” collection and then pooling all these taxes into one big trough to be divvied up is the reason the water system was under funded and fupped in the first place.

      You’re mixing up cause and effect.. logical fallacy 101

  17. ollie

    Clampers the funding model did work until FG decided to starve it from funding so it could be broken and then sold off. It’s a classic scam.
    I don’t have a problem paying for water; I do have a problem paying John Tierney and his buddies the enormous salaried they’ve awarded themselves, I’ve a problem paying for a €30 water meter that costs €20 to buy, with paying the future redundancies of the local authority staff, with my pension fund being raided, with the €700 million it costs to run this “business”, with the 29 staff who “earn” over €100,000 each, the 50% of staff who “earn” over €70,000, the list is endless.

    1. Anne

      A. The water infrastructure was meant to be funded from general taxation and from increases in car tax.
      B. This didn’t happen, even when the country was awash with money from general taxation.

      Therefore A is the cause of B.

      Eh wrong.

      Here Clampers.
      Rudy Giuliani is veritable fountain of causal logical fallacies. Here’s another one:

      “My chance of surviving prostate cancer, and thank God I was cured of it, in the United States, 82%,” Rudy says. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44% under socialized medicine. You and I should be making the decisions about what kind of health care we get with our doctors, not with a government bureaucrat.”

  18. some old queen

    Is it not FF who are proposing to set up an authority?

    Two facts. The network is badly in need of upgrading and the pay as you go model is no longer viable because it would be impossible to gain enough momentum now in order to encourage people to pay again.

    One question nobody is asking. Spent costs are gone but going forward, what is the cheapest way of upgrading the system? Does anyone actually know?

  19. Disasta

    Possible 8 month boil notice in Midleton.
    Have been buying water since Christmas anyway.

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