How To Dismantle Irish Water


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Social Democrats TD Stephen Donnelly

Social Democrats TD Stephen Donnelly spoke to Rachael English on RTÉ One’s Morning Ireland this morning about the matter of Irish Water amid the Government formation talks.

Mr Donnelly said the future of Irish Water should not be solely discussed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiators behind closed doors but that it should be discussed among all elected TDs in the Dáil.

At the end of the interview, Mr Donnelly explained that he hasn’t paid his water charges, saying:

“Anyone who’s paying out €160 is essentially being asked to go out into their front garden and set fire to the money”.

Grab a tay.

Rachael English: “It’s 60 days without a Government and the talks are stuck over water charges. The Social Democrats have said that the water issue must be discussed in the Dáil and not confined to a closed room among Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiators. One of its three TDs, Stephen Donnelly, joins us now, good morning.”

Stephen Donnelly: “Good morning.”

English: “You would have had a say had you remained in the process of talking to find a Government.”

Donnelly: “Well we do have a say, we’re a political party elected to the Dáil and that’s where this should be debated. The Greens entered talks in good faith and had to leave, a lot of Independents entered talks in good faith and had to leave, the Social Democrats met both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil at the start, we had very constructive talks with both parties. And then we said the numbers are such that you two need to go and come to some sort of agreement and that we would then engage. And we were right: those who did engage before that spent a lot of time in there in good faith and they had to leave. We have now reached out to Fianna Fáil, to Fine Gael, to Sinn Féin, to the Greens, in the last week, because the talks are back on and therefore we are very much in the process – we’re not going to go and prop up a Fine Gael minority government, we said during the campaign we wouldn’t do that…”

English: “But you’ve left Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to it, in terms of making the arrangements for whatever Government needs to be formulated so they have to do an agreement on Irish Water.”

Donnelly: “No they don’t, the Dáil has to have an agreement on Irish Water so, people are really fed up. We’re on day 60…”

English: “But the Dáil did agree on Irish Water, I mean the thing was discussed, it was debated, it was voted on, it was established…”

Donnelly: “It was and then it was a general election and then the majority of TDS elected ran partly on the basis of changing that decision. Let’s not forget: Irish Water was only one of, I think, only two times in the last Dáil term of five years where the Opposition walked out. If you remember Phil Hogan, the minister, then rammed it through, the whole thing through in three hours. And it has been a disaster right from its beginning and continues to be a disaster. And we now have, what it really is, a totally unacceptable situation where we have Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael locked away in a room, potentially about to collapse the 32nd Dáil on the issue of water. What the Social Democrats are saying is, ‘Look, water was one of the key issues of the election. Obviously there are arguably more pressing issues, like homelessness, like people having to wait 25 times longer on public waiting lists than private waiting lists…'”

English: “Murder on the streets…”

Donnelly: “Like murder, right, like the guards are being 20% under resourced and so forth. There are very, very serious issues. We have one in eight children in the country now in daily poverty. The Dáil needs to get about doing its business.”

English: “So is it ridiculous that the 32nd Dáil is being threatened with collapse over an issue which, you can break it down, to €3 a week per household?”

Donnelly: “Well we think it’s outrageous that it is potentially going to be collapsed and so what we are saying to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is: there is clearly an impasse. Both parties ran on quite different positions. We actually don’t believe that either position is a tenable position, either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael’s position but that’s fine. That’s up to them to decide. We’re saying look: clearly this has reached an impasse. The rest of us want to get on with the job we’ve been elected and paid to do – as I’m sure more Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs. Take the issue of Irish Water out of the talks, bring it back to where it belongs – which is in the Dáil – like let’s not forget, about 90 TDs were elected with a very clear mandate: To end domestic water charges. There are about 90 TDs who would vote accordingly. So let’s not collapse the 32nd Dáil on the issue of water, let’s bring it back..”

English: “So how do you change it? Would you change the system of having a national utility called Irish Water, managing the Irish Water project, and having water charges? What would you change?”

Donnelly: “Yes, there’s three things we would do. First of all, we would call for a referendum on public ownership, probably to change Article 10 of the constitution. There is a very real fear of privatisation – probably not in the next few years but in the future. So we would look for a referendum to make sure that could never happen. We would reconstitute Irish Water, you could say end Irish Water, abolish Irish Water but not do what Fianna Fáil is looking to do which, quite frankly, is bonkers – which is send it back to the local authorities – but have a national water board. Because whilst the Government made and unholy mess of Irish Water in the last Dáil, actually the engineers are doing a very good job like they are doing the business that needs to be done on the water system which is great. And the third thing we would do is we would end domestic charges and, partly, and it’s a message people really need to understand, partly because the money that is being raised from domestic charges does nothing other than cover the cost of raising the money. So none of the money that anyone is paying out or not paying out is being used to maintain the system or upgrade the system…”

English: “So all the money to fund water and the repairing of the system should come from the Exchequer, is that what you’re saying?”

Donnelly: “Should continue to come from the Exchequer. Let’s not forget, it costs twice as much in Ireland to provide water as it does in the UK, including northern Ireland where the population density is more or less the same. So what should be done is the engineers should be allowed get on with the job of identifying the leaks, of upgrading the system, that creates very, very significant cost savings. You reinvest those cost savings into upgrading the system. So both from an engineering perspective, from an economic perspective and from a political and democratic perspective, there is a very clear argument that says: end domestic charges, use the savings which are being generated to reinvest and upgrading the system which obviously has to be done…”

Listen back in full here

Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews

76 thoughts on “How To Dismantle Irish Water

  1. Joe cool

    I have a feeling, that the whole holdup between FG and FF is that FG have already agreed with someone to privatise Irish water

    1. martco

      nah you might be right about IW but I don’t think it’s the direct reason for the charade, I reckon they’ve both made a pact early on to hide for as long as possible (odd kite in air here and there) in the expectation that the electorate will get sufficiently numb about the issues and will forget reactionary (as they see it) voting for this rabble of SF/SD/INDOS.

      They might well hate each other but they love being at the trough and want that way of life to continue for themselves (and their industry buddies of course)

      1. Pip

        +1. I’d say the thought of losing one’s place at the trough must be fierce hard to deal with.
        God forbid etc.

      1. 15 cents

        i reckon a private company would go about bringing everyone to court. keep doin it until the rest get scared and pay. and the courts here would favour the company, and the cases would be processed quick and severe.

        1. nellyb

          Quick would still be a few years, given large number of “offenders”. By then the country will be entirely sold to vultures and renamed to Nopublic In Ireland, with Kenny as viceroy. A wet dream of some.

    2. Harry Molloy

      it’s impossible to make money on, no one would want to buy. the whole privatization is a red Herring and a distraction from real issues.

    3. classter

      Nah, FF want to get cheap electoral gains from being the ones to ‘abolish’ IW.
      FG, obviously, don;t want that.

    4. Sheik Yahbouti

      I’ve no doubt that the deals were done several years ago. What I now want is for FF and FG to admit it, and furnish details of to whom we have been sold, the price paid, and who gets a cut. If we are paying the piper we’re entitled to call the tune.

  2. Clampers Outside!

    ” end domestic charges, use the savings which are being generated to reinvest and upgrading the system”
    So, he’s saying the savings from fixing leaks will pay for the upgrade of the water system….


    * best Miriam voice * ….genuinely?

    1. SoLo

      He is saying the cost of billing and collecting domestic charges can be invested in fixing leaks.

    2. Steve


      Comes nowhere it. You are not going to save €600-700m a year through leaks, which is what Irish water estimates it needs for capital investment per year. That equates to about 90% of running the system on an annual

          1. brownbull

            it is not zero regard for democracy to suggest that important – and complicated – policy decisions are best not determined by a quick head count of the mob – if there was a democratic mandate to get rid of Irish Water why has it not happened? surely the Right2Change group and Fianna Fail have enough votes? or maybe representative democracy is more complicated than that?

    3. JD

      I think he is saying that the cost of collecting the charges, i.e. the actual admin of bringing the cash in is not washing its face…

      It is an unholy mess that is now a political football. FF and FG have played the ball into a corner and no one wants to make a move.

  3. Jake38

    Syria, refugees, terrorists, Brexit, waiting lists in hospitals, slowing of the Chinese economy, insufficient and inadequatley resourced Gardai, an unfit for purpose criminal justice system (unless you’re a barrister buying a new holiday home) and ALL the politicians are hung up on………………….water charges.

    1. Pip

      It’s ironic though, that they’re hung up on the one issue that really got ‘us’ going.
      And the one issue where they lost so many of us.

    2. Owen C

      In fairness, not just the politicians. Water charges was quite clearly one of the most ‘popular’ political causes of the last 12 months.

    3. 15 cents

      might not be an issue for you, jake. but for a lot of us, the water charges are an extra burden we simply cant afford to carry. and on top of that, a lot of us are sick of seeing our country being stripped of its assets and sold for pittance. which will certainly happen with IW. also, the money theyve wasted on it couldve put an end to some of the other issues youve mentioned. so with this comes the solution to other issues.

      1. Harry Molloy

        “certainly” – why certainly? why pepper the legitimate reasons you may have with something as wishy washy as that? it’s based on nothing and is actually almost certain it won’t happen, unless bought by a philanthropist

  4. joe

    SDs yesterday – we won’t be part of negotiations!

    SDs today – we want to be part of negotiations!

    let’s have Donnelly as Minister for Sour Grapes

  5. DubLoony

    Once more with feeling – there has to be a plebiscite to change the ownership of Irish water, Water Services Act 2014, section 2. We the people own Irish Water and we the people are the only ones who can vote to change that.

    There is no incentive for anyone to conserve water under Mr. Donnelly , eh, plan.
    Nice of him to acknowledge that there is good work being done on the ground by engineers.

    1. ahjayzis

      I don’t know if you’ve missed this, but there is no incentive for anyone to conserve water under Mr. Irish Water, either. It’s a flat tax with a 100 squid rebate you can legit spend on botox or anal bleaching treatments.

      1. Steve


        The current domestic tariff charging caps annual charges at €160 and €260. If you have a meter and your usage comes under those caps you will face the lower charge. I will agree though that the incentive is small for metered customers. It would have been a lot higher if fully cost reflective charges were introduced.

      2. DubLoony

        For people paying the charge is the max amount.
        Using a meter would reduce their bill.

        Person in 5 bathroom mansion pays the same as a one bed apt, not fair.
        Use more = pay more.
        Use less = pay less.

        1. Owen C

          I think the reluctance to consider pay-by-use is insane from a long term perspective. We live in a world where we acknowledge that resources are limited and becoming scarcer given climate change, global population trends etc, but we suffer a massive political and societal backlash at the thought of paying for our individual usage of water? I’m not sure how that’s a coherent left wing argument in the longer term.

          1. DubLoony

            In Dublin, water capacity is a little over 100%. Which means we have just enough for our needs now. throw in massive house, hotel & hospital building and we will be in deficit.
            throw in a weather event like an icy winter or drought in summer and you have a a full blown crisis.

          2. ahjayzis

            Taken in isolation, sure. But people are entitled to a sense of being fleeced for the last decade or so. Because they have been.

            They brought this in as an austerity measure, when incomes were already falling, people were already facing charge upon charge loaded on them. That’s been proved by abandoning any pretence at conservation early on.

            Its also seen as part of a broader narrative FG/Labour constantly repeated of “moving away from ‘taxes on work'”, which to you and me means taxation levels based on income to a flat rate regardless of income.

            You can’t remove it from it’s context, it was the straw that broke the camels back.

          3. Steve

            Political mess??? Agreed.

            But Should people in dalkey pay more for their electricity or gas than those in devaney gardens??

          4. Owen C


            there is a hardcore within the anti-water-charges grouping that believes that water is a human right and that charge-by-use should never come into force, in any format.

          5. ahjayzis

            There’s a hardcore in any movement. But my parents are fairly centrist moderate people, they’d never countenance a vote for AAA or SF, but they refuse to pay or engage with IW. Because to do so with would be a humiliation. To hand money over to something so cobbled together, so botched, so insulting to the intelligence of the ‘customer’ is a step too far for them.

            I really think the argument’s been lost, FG botched any chance of the public accepting water charging for at least a decade.

          6. Owen C

            what do you think the “no charges ever” portion of the anti-water-charges grouping amounts to? 5%? 10%? 30%? I’d suggest at least that 30%, and probably higher.

          7. ahjayzis

            @ Owen

            I think it should be only a nominal amount for fair usage, heftier charges beyond that. I pay about 400 sterling a year for water, I’m not ideologically opposed to the idea. But I’m implacably opposed to *this* iteration of the idea. You don’t get to threaten people, spend public money like it was going out of fashion, cloak an austerity measure in the garb of much needed conservation, keep PR vampires in blood and caviar, promote Phil Hogon off the back of it, and bodge the charging system in a panic so that it only raises enough to cover the cost of raising it and then demand the meek acceptance of people with half a wit that see it for what it is.

            This was litigated at the election, and the anti-side won.

          8. DubLoony

            ahjayzis, agreed, it was a step too far for a population under crisis.
            The original proposal was from the Greens as a conservation measure.
            The IMF proposal was that costs would be re-couped via charging for use.
            The EU stance is that there is a “polluter pay” principle where if you use more, you pay more.

            Water is needed regardless of the state of the economy. Solely relying on income tax which drastically reduces as the economy tanks means that water infrastructure never has enough investment.

            The charges are affordable for many people. There should be a generous free allowance to meet need and metering to bill for excess use.
            There should also be a rebate for conservation, use less, Irish Water pays you.

            As a nation, we need to have a dialogue about what needs to happen. Problem is, various sides are so entrenched its almost impossible.

          9. ahjayzis

            Because there was no dialogue. Phil Hogan doesn’t do dialogue.

            That’s what’s got me so angry about it if I think about it. They’ve poisoned the well. The concept of water conservation will be politically toxic for a generation.

            I really can’t think of anything, anywhere that was effed up so badly by a government.

        2. brownbull

          having 5 bathrooms does not necessarily mean that you use more water, occupancy determines that

          1. JC

            @ Dubloony, Interesting that you cite the Polluter Pays argument several times when it has been statistically proven (see examiner article) that residential properties in Ireland use no where near the Prophicised levels of volumes that IW and FG were banking on, We use far less. There is no hidden group of people pumping their hoses into their front gardens or leaving the taps running, It is and always was a myth.

            In addition to your polluter pays argument it is now shown that Industry is using the majority of water yet we want residential properties to recover 75% of the cost.

            I mean your name is fair Apt for the suggestion that the problem is the population. The problem has always been lack of investment either by letting industry off on effective bills or pushing the money from VAT and Car Tax into other areas.

            Just like anything else you can point to in this country HSE for example the administration of the whole thing is a farce and IW has has been proven time and time again is not the silver bullet. There should be silver bullets reserved for those that cause these farces, Phil Hogan should have been sacked rather than a golden parachute.

            Welcome to Ireland Inc.

    2. some old queen

      It is very hard to take any conservation message seriously while half of the supply is disappearing through leaks on the network. No amount of conserving is going to fix the pipes?

      Serious question: What is the difference between a referendum and a plebiscite in Irish law?

      1. DubLoony

        Referendum relates to changing the constitution only.
        Plebiscite is a vote by the people affecting a law.

        Example: Section 2 Plebiscite on ownership of Irish Water, Water Services Act.

        If FF want to abolish Irish water, there will have to be a vote on it.It won’t be done via a Dáil vote and certainly not with a minority government.

        1. Clampers Outside!

          Broken link there boss.

          I’d also note that in a plebiscite the rules of a referendum do not apply. In a referendum the govt must maintain balance.

          In a plebiscite the govt can go all in on one side of the argument to promote a win for that side.

        2. some old queen

          Ok tnx, Obviously privatising is not the same thing as abolishing. I wonder if there is there anyway that could be done without it going to the people?

    1. Harry Molloy

      he’s giving into populism, sometimes politicians need to make and to endorse unpopular decisions.

      1. Clampers Outside!

        I’m not disappointed yet. I knew SDs were going to change IW, I didn’t know they were going to scrap charges altogether (if they got their way). I wouldn’t be for scrapping them completely….. and general taxation, IMO, is not the right way to fund IW.

  6. 15 cents

    “So is it ridiculous that the 32nd Dáil is being threatened with collapse over an issue which, you can break it down, to €3 a week per household?” .. yea rachel, ignore all donnellys points and go back to your hymn sheet. tryna turn it into it being ridiculous that people dont just pay and get on with it. so sick of having every aspect of the media telling me to fall in line and be stripped of everything i earn and what my kids and their kids will earn. its like the matrix in here. all of us strapped up and being bled dry. sure didnt FG already go back on their promise to abolish the USC? and theyre not even in gov. yet. theyve no intention of making life better for the population, they just want everything we have.

      1. ahjayzis

        I couldn’t disagree more.

        Your take home pay is your take home pay, spend it how you like, state services are free at the point of access. So much less complicated, no vast silo’d arrays of payment processing staff and systems, much less sense of having to dip your hand in your pocket all the bloody time.

        1. Owen C

          The state unfortunately has some horrific examples of inefficiency or hideous cost overruns in its delivery of services. And so does the private sector too, but at least some of the time the private sector actually takes the blame for that (note: some of the time. I’m well aware lots of the time they don’t). A properly regulated (and this is the key part), state-owned but commercially operated water utility which will manage both investment of infrastructure and charge-by-use of services is the best answer in my mind. A classic Irish quango, and politically manipulated charge-and-rebate system, is the wrong way, but at least its pointing in the right direction.

  7. Junkface

    Irelands water system is a wreck! Its NEVER been properly invested in by any FF or FG governments since we got independence, they only care about it now as its teetering on disaster and the EU are on their backs and will fine them for failing EU standards. The fact is, someone is going to have to pay to get it fixed, so if it has to be done under general taxation, then our taxes will go up. We must be one of the few EU countries that still pumps sewage into the sea eg: Rush beach. Dublins water comes from a Victorian tunnel pipeline! Victorian! Ireland must have one of the most short sighted mindsets of Government and how to maintain functioning services for a continued society.

      1. Junkface

        Yeah there’s probably some truth in that, but Ireland has been treated like a little pension machine by the Political classes since the British handed it back to us. Get voted in, look busy, line your pockets, runaway after 4 or 5 years with massive pension. Fix nothing.
        Ireland never matured socially or economically like the big established European countries who have all of this stuff figured out years ago. Also we’re too influenced by the American idea that our taxes can be low and yet we can still have a functioning society, with services. Its not possible. Taxes have to be raised if we want to live in a modern European country with normal services.

  8. sendog

    bring on another election so we can crucify these morons.

    FG are hell bent on selling off water to their close friend. FF are playing the long game so they can restructure Irish water and fill it full of their cronies. Both parties are only interested in water for selfish reasons.

    Social Democrats should do better again in an election.

  9. Steve

    Is it possible to separate out the political farce (charges flip flops , conservation grants, pps numbers , threats of disconnection, big Phil and Alan Kelly in general etc) from the actual work being done on the ground since IW was set up?

    Probably not at this stage.

    1. some old queen

      The emphasis was and is on billing. Some private property leaks were identified but the infrastructure projects that are now nearing completion were all already underway within the Local Authorities.

      I asked the question above but got no answer. A plebiscite would be required to abolish Irish water. Would a plebiscite be required in order for it to be privatised?

      1. sendog

        no. The Dail and thus the gov. can and will decide to sell it off. The only way to guarantee it remains a public utility owned by the people is new legislation enacted via a referendum.

        A plebiscite is not needed to abolish it either. A vote in the Dail will suffice. The legislation governing its creation was brought into the dail and voted on. Legislation can thus be brought in and voted on to abolish it.

        1. some old queen

          Tnx. A referendum it is so. Of course the precedence for this has already been set. The parent company of Irish Water is Ervia which was Bord Gáis. Then Bord Gáis Energy was sold to a private a consortium and the name went with it hence the new network name, Ervia.


  10. Andy

    Donnelly spoofing as usual.
    Looking for air time now a snap election is being touted.
    And his voters will lap it up.

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