From top: Irish Water bill; Brendan Ogle
But will the 32nd Dáil subvert its democratic mandate to keep Irish Water running?
Brendan Ogle writes:
When Right2Water exploded onto our streets on 11 October, 2014 as the umbrella campaign for the anti-water charges movement a promise was made.
Unusually in Irish public life this promise was kept.
The promise was that Right2Water would be around AT LEAST until the next election seeking the abolition of the regressive double water tax. We also promised that this would be the number one issue in the next election.
For a year and a half commentators and establishment politicians sneered at these claims and repeatedly told us that the campaign had dissipated.
After election 2016 nobody is sneering.
What seemed unlikely, or even impossible, has happened. Labour have been humiliated by their traditional voters and Alan Kelly has been humiliated by what remains of Labour.
Fine Gael have lost one third of their seats and the two large right wing ‘Irish Tory’ parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, can’t even claim that they command the support of a majority in this divided state combined. Seismic change.
Irish Water has been rejected in the polls and, politically and financially, is a beaten docket with charges now suspended. Irish Water, and the privatisation agenda that it represents, has been beaten up, but it is not yet beaten.
Last week Fianna Fail failed to deliver on its electoral commitment to abolish the super quango when given the opportunity in a Dail vote.
Fianna Fail joined a long list of 59 TDs who either abstained on this vote or were unavailable. Even worse, however, is that the vote was carried by 60 TDs vs. 39 TDs and the 60 even included John Halligan and Finian McGrath as Independents.
So, for now, Irish Water continues to function on life support. It’s time to pull the plug.
The day before this vote I attended a very positive meeting of the three Right2Water pillars. This involves trade unions, political parties and independents, and also community activists, working together to seek abolition of Irish Water.
These three strands worked together since 2014 and delivered the largest (per capita) and most peaceful protest movement anywhere in the world today.
Our objectives are simple. We want Irish Water abolished and replaced with a single national water and sanitation board funded through progressive general taxation.
We also want public ownership of the public water supply protected in a new Article 28 Section 4:2:1 of our Constitution to read:
‘The Government shall be collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system. The Government shall ensure in the public interest that this resource remains in public ownership and management.’
This will require a referendum and in the coming weeks a Bill sponsored by Joan Collins TD and signed by Sinn Féin, PBP, AAA and other Independents goes before the Dail proposing exactly that.
Since the beginning public debate of the Irish Water issue has been conducted as if a fiction were true. That fiction is that Irish Water, the meters and the billing system is not about privatisation.
All across the globe vulture funds and corporates are taking ownership of public water supplies and turning our human Right2Water into a right to profit for the 1%. They are turning that which we need to live into a commodity that they can turn off and deny to citizens at will.
Apart from ‘financial services’ nothing delivers bigger profit margins for these vultures than our life sustaining water.
From Bolivia to Berlin, and from Portugal to Portroe corporate interests have ensnared politicians to do their bidding and hand the people’s water over to them.
But the people have fought back and prevented this happening or even won water back through re-municipalisation as has happened in Bolivia, Berlin and Paris for example.
Water in Paris and Belin were both re-municipalised in 2014 following rising bills, lack of investment in new infrastructure and public pressure.
The Cochabamba water war took place in Bolivia’s third largest city in 1999 and 2000. A community coalition ‘Coordinadora in Defence of Water and Life’ won after public protests which saw one protestor killed. The privatisation was reversed.
Of course, on the rare occasion that the media have put this to them, politicians in Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens have rejected the argument that they are engaging in a privatisation quest.
And they have been allowed to issue bland denials of what is blindingly obvious without being held accountable.
That is now about to end. If privatisation is not the agenda behind Irish Water then this ‘Government’ can save itself no end of trouble by simply supporting Joan Collins’ bill when it goes before the Dail.
I personally believe that the expected failure of Fine Gael to support this bill, or further obfuscation by Fianna Fail or Shane Ross’s ‘Independents’ that prevents this vital bill from being passed, will be a subversion of the democratic mandate of the 32nd Dail that will require a response.
This Government is barely a Government at all and it is already hanging by a thread before it has even begun.
People power led to a massive change in the electoral shape of Ireland in the February election. I don’t believe for one minute that the necessary change is complete.
In fact I believe it has only just begun.