Raining On The Parade


From top: Fire officers prepare a water station in Ratoath, County Meath on Tuesday; Dan Boyle

The water charges campaigns, over four decades, have been Ireland’s brush with populism. They haven’t (thankfully) produced the consequences of Brexit or Trump, but consequences there are.

We see them now in Louth and in Meath. We will see them in many other parts of the country for several years to come. Our water infrastructure is crumbling, all due to decades of under investment.

Those who believe the myth that we have always paid for water, conveniently ignore the fact that however much has been collected, through whatever collection method, it has never equalled what has been spent, nor come close to what has been needed to be spent.

The other myth is that the current anti-water charges campaign, unlike its predecessors in the eighties/nineties/noughties, has killed the prospect of direct payment for the usage of water, ever being put in place. It hasn’t. Like the previous campaigns it has merely, once again, kicked the issue into touch, possibly for another ten years.

In the meantime, our water infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Meanwhile, the political attention is being given to returning money, which while grudgingly given was legitimately collected. The cost of giving money back is itself an added expense.

Let me make a modest proposal, I suggest that the money paid to Irish Water should be converted into a tax credit, available over a number of years. For those without a tax liability, this credit could be refundable. The credit could be linked to the existence of a water meter. For those without a meter, the tax credit could be applied for, along with installing a meter.

Meters are an essential part of any water infrastructure. Meters are most beneficial to the consumers of water. How we use water. In what ways do we use water. In what volumes and for what purposes are the questions we should be asking ourselves as consumers.

Pushing the boat out further, I would suggest that water consumers should be virtually billed. I’m not expecting anyone to pay anything for a long while yet. What virtual billing would do is illustrate the cost of directly producing water, as well as the embedded costs of meeting current and future infrastructural costs.

This would increase public awareness, but on its own it will do little to restore public confidence. Putting to bed any fear that water would be anything other than a public asset, is a necessary first step in that process.

Water needs a regulator. It doesn’t need a quango like Irish Water. The maintenance of our network should be decentralised.

Local government can and should be enabled to undertake this work. There may be a role for a national organisation for the provision of new infrastructure, Irish Water does not have the public goodwill to do that.

I suspect there will be many who disagree. Those who see the anti water charges campaign, as a great bringing together of the long neglected in our communities. That is arguable. What other social issues have been advanced because of it?

More likely the way the issue has been dealt with has been the same as many other Irish political issues – given not the necessary but the Irish solution. We have had too many of those.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

87 thoughts on “Raining On The Parade

  1. Tabloid Rag

    @ feral Keening

    THIS is how you do trolling and write an article – both at the same time. Watch and learn from Dan

      1. hieronymus tosh

        Reading your comments is like listening to some old drunk grumble incoherently at a urinal, it’s throughly unpleasant

        1. Frilly Keane

          I’m not known to hang around mens urinals Dan
          but I’ll take your word for it

          did I say Dan

          1. hieronymus tosh

            No, I’m not Dan Boyle, I’m just a guy that used to enjoy this website before it descended into the paranoid ramblings of Bodgers toadies and embodiment of horseshoe theory

        2. Tabloid Rag

          Reading them is like listening to a diseased badger being savaged by a badly wounded wasp

  2. Cian

    Dan, interesting article and I’d agree with most of it.
    The bit I disagree with is the 3rd sentence here: “Water needs a regulator. It doesn’t need a quango like Irish Water. The maintenance of our network should be decentralised.”

    I think a central agency in charge of water is better than the old system of fifty-something separate areas of responsibility. How would electricity/gas distribution work if the councils were in charge? It makes sense that you have one agency in charge of distribution (we could always split the water/waste into two separate agencies). The production of clean water/sewage cleansing can be decoupled from this distribution and it can be decentralised.

    1. Dan Boyle

      My experience has been that councils were better at maintenance, that might be a Cork thing though.

  3. Increasing Displacement

    Dan – the man with answers when he’s not involved.
    Poor quality answers solving nothing.

  4. bisted

    …a modest proposal…eh Dan…you almost had me there until I saw the Swiftian allusion…nice work of satire…

  5. Bruncvik

    I tend to agree that we need to pay for the maintenance of water infrastructure. And I also think that water meters are a good thing. I personally would also like to know how I use my water, just like I’m keeping track of my electricity usage. However, I don’t think the protests were about paying for water or the installation of the water meters. The protests were about how these policies were implemented:

    * With all other tax surcharges, Ireland already has one of the highest individual tax rates, well above the EU, global and OECD averages. Given that personal income tax receipts are the biggest item in the budget revenue, while infrastructure spending is just a blip on the expenses side, it is very unfair to ask for even more, especially in the form of a new regressive tax. They money for water infrastructure is already there – we are just spending it elsewhere.

    * Having a private company, Irish Water, take care of the infrastructure was extremely wasteful. Forget about the 3.8 million spent on bonuses and 1 million on travel last year (even though it would take over 18,000 households to pay for those every year – how many households are currently without water?). Irish Water is still taxed at 12.5%. So, in essence, we are being double-taxed here. Not even the stamp duty is doing that.

    * The water meter installation was executed very poorly. If I remember right, the company that was awarded the contract was incorporated 10 days after the contract was awarded. This stinks of corruption at the highest levels. I’d feel insulted to participate in a fraud like that.

    My modest proposal (caveat: I didn’t even vote in the last election, so I have no moral standing to expect my proposal to be heard): scrap any additional charges to the personal income tax, restructure the tax (maybe add an additional high income level), and restructure the future budgets with higher infrastructure spending.

    1. Rob_G

      “With all other tax surcharges, Ireland already has one of the highest individual tax rates, well above the EU, global and OECD averages.”

      – no we don’t; we have very high marginal rates of income tax, but many people pay very little tax

      ” Having a private company, Irish Water…” – it’s not a private company

      1. Tabloid Rag

        You see what he said actually Rob was “Tax rate”

        You on the other hand wanted to make some typical badger-baiting point about numbers of taxable persons. However you will not be deterred I think, you are like some diseased otter sniping at a pre-teen swimming class in his favourite local river

        1. Rob_G

          No he didn’t, and no I didn’t.

          And I don’t really understand your strange wildlife analogy, but you possibly need help.

          1. Tabloid Rag

            What Bruncvik said:

            “Ireland already has one of the highest individual tax rates”

            What Rob said:
            “we have very high marginal rates of income tax, but many people pay very little tax”

            Leave it to Beaver>>>>

          2. Rob_G

            “With all other tax surcharges [here he seems to be including indirect taxes] Ireland already has one of the highest individual tax rates…”

            – I don’t know if I will continue to respond to your fevered keyboard mashings, as you seem to be quite thick and kind of hateful :/

          3. Tabloid Rag

            Poor Rob

            comes in here trolling, lying and using weasel words every day but other posters are “thick and kind of hateful”

          4. Tabloid Rag

            @ Harry

            regarding ‘hate’ I recall clearly that Rob_G refused the wishes of a dying man who beseeched him in here to change his username for fear that the obnoxious spittle routinely flecked out here by the online version would be mistaken for the opinion of the one who was dying. Was his dying wish granted? Was it fupp (if you want to talk about ‘hate’).

          5. jusayinlike

            @ tabloid rag..

            What was your avatar name at that stage? Your current name has only been here a fortnight at most..

    2. brownbull

      Your arguments have a lot of truthiness Bruncvik but don’t stack up: 1) we do not have one of the highest individual tax rates, 2) Irish Water would only be charged corporate tax on profits not on turnover so the 12.5% you claim to eb double-taxation is incorrect, 3) it is not unusual that a company would be formed for a joint venture between investors upon award of a contract, that does not stink of corruption as you claim

      1. Bruncvik

        Points well taken. Let me elaborate on my claims:

        1. According to Wikipedia (usual caveats apply), Ireland has the 11th highest minimum tax band in the world and 10th highest maximum individual tax band in the world. From my personal experience, I earn just around the average in Ireland, and I give the state over 31% of my salary. In the UK, for example, it would have been 26%, in the US 25% and 21% in Canada. It would have been much higher in Germany, for example (about 40%), but that’s why I said Ireland had one of the highest, and not the highest.

        2. Absolutely true. 12.5% is only on the profit. However, Irish Water in its business plan (freely available on their site) projected a 5% pre-tax income each year. Granted, that’s only 0.6% tax rate on the water tax, but it still stings and feels wrong. Why not be honest and tell us how much we’d actually have to pay for the water, instead of obfuscating the costs?

        3. This is open for debate. According to those EU rules I worked with regarding tender applications, a company must present a clean tax certificate prior to be eligible to even applying for a tender. A company that doesn’t exist can’t produce that. In addition, companies that didn’t pay any income tax in the past “should be excluded” from being awarded contracts (a guideline, not a suggestion). But I was a bit wrong in this point – the company was formed 14 days after being awarded the contract, not 10.

        All that said, I must admit I was one of those who still tried to pay my water bill. I didn’t want any legal trouble. Fortunately for me, my two-person apartment charge was an annualized 650 Euros, for some reason, instead the advertised 260. I kept sending Irish Water letters asking to get it in order, but I’ve been only getting reminders of the original sum. Had their complaint resolution process actually worked, I’d be a few quid lighter and a lot more upset.

        1. brownbull

          1) what you meant then is that it has one of the highest for your personal tax band on PAYE only and not ‘individual tax take’, so your original point does not stand up
          2) so you agree your original point does not stand up
          3) it is not as straight forward as you claim – a tax clearance cert may only be required at contract, or the parent company or investors may be required to provide it at tender, etc… there are many complications to this – again your original point does not stand up

    3. ahjayzis

      “I’d feel insulted to participate in a fraud like that.”

      This is it in a nutshell. Dan and other politicians dont’ seem to have the ability to grasp this.

      People could see what Irish Water was, it would have been a humiliation to have had to pay it.

  6. ahjayzis

    How docile and cow-like do you think the Irish people are? How many times do you think you can keep coming back to them for more, more, more when your class cannot point to a single part of the state that functions properly, and can be called a good use of the money extracted to fund them.

    Politicians asked them to pay out of pocket for something politicians have neglected to fund with the money they’ve already been paying for the networks upkeep, 6 years into unprecedented austerity, a gigantic transfer of BILLIONS of money from ordinary people to bankers who destroyed our economy that YOU VOTED FOR, a huge bump already in direct taxation, indirect, and charges, rising unemployment, a housing crisis, the cost of living soaring, and your solution was to invent a new tax that would take no account of earnings or means.

    Get fupped, Dan. You people really can’t see yourselves from the perspective of the people you pretend to govern. The country is not a spreadsheet, it’s actually looking back at you.

    Please, finally get it: You and people like you have destroyed your reputation and your moral authority to do things like introduce water charges. You need to earn it back before you get to look down your pompous, superannuated nose at the plebs.

      1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

        Aye. Very erudite. I wish I had that clarity of thought, instead of being a total muppet.

          1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            That’s more than I ever could have hoped for, truly, kind sir.
            Prithee fupp the fupp off now, dearest.

            HEY! Remember Tim Nice But Dim? I’m like his sister Timotha.
            I thought I made that name up, but it’s an actual thing. Dagnabbit.

            Proving your point, word after word.

    1. Dan Boyle

      The Irish people are not an amphorous mass. I credit with more independent thinking than you seemed to do,

      1. ahjayzis

        Hey look, a platitudinous soundbite!

        God I miss noughties-style empty vessel politicians. Don’t argue back, plamás the voters.

        You’re right in a way though, independent thinking led people like my parents, in no way hard-leftists, Mary Harney fans, to being unable to humiliate themselves by paying a cent to Irish Water.

  7. Mourinho

    Why did people protest the water charges?
    Because they could.

    When taxes are deducted from your wages you can’t stop it.
    You can’t refuse to pay VAT.
    You can’t stop the government from wasting money.

    You can refuse to pay a bill.

    It was never just about water.

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      It’s funny that the water charges were never presented as a tax. Irish Water was not presented as branch of government. Serious effort was made (and considerable money was spent) to make Irish Water look like a private utility company (Vodafone, Virgin television, Eir…) For example: the glossy branding, the adverts on the telly, on bus-stops. This presentation backfired because of the poor reputation many of these companies have at resolving service problems and customer complaints.

      If Irish Water had tried to make themselves look like the Revenue Commissioners, and only communicate with people on official-looking typed letters on paper headed with the government harp, that would have been one thing. People might resent the Revenue, but at least they have a reputation for efficiency and honesty.

      Instead people were faced with the prospect of their WATER SUPPLY being controlled by a private utility. And we all know the crap you go through when you have a problem with your phone or your tv signal; imagine that bullshit happening when your tap starts spitting sand… No wonder people rebelled.

      But this simple (and foreseeable) fact came as a surprise to the likes of Phil Hogan and his colleagues, because they’re too rich to have these problems, and too wealthy to need public services.

      1. Cian

        I see where you’re going, but perhaps you shouldn’t compare water to phones or TV, but to gas or electricity. You have all the glossy branding & ads for ESB, Eirtricity, Bord Gais, etc.

  8. Hansel

    Solid argument Dan.

    The government doesn’t spend enough of the tax take on road infrastructure…
    They could set up a new private company called “Irish Roads” with the power to bill people according to a regulator who says “set whatever rate you think is reasonable”. The majority of their initial work will not involve infrastructure upgrade but on implementing a toll on each and every vehicle in the country. See where I’m going here?

    Irish Water should first have been set up as a fully-funded government agency tasked with water infrastructure upgrade. The primary focus should have been on temporary metering to enable an overall distribution infrastructure upgrade, not on permanent end user metering “to enable end user infrastructure upgrade” which everyone knew was nothing more than a nonsense revenue-generation exercise.
    With the initial infrastructure improvements, there would have been significant operations-cost money saved, to re-invest in infrastructure to the point where the agency was returning money to the government (like ESB does). At that point you can consider end user metering and whatnot, when you know your actual costs. AKA first get your house in order and then you can think about monetising the whole thing.

    Even a 5 year old can tell you that metering and billing end users isn’t addressing problems of asbestos pipework, lack of pipe flow diagrams, and other massive glaring infrastructure issues.

    Broadsheet could get a private company to focus on billing readers, in order to improve content on the website….

    Everyone knew Irish Water had too little to do with water provision and too much to do with revenue generation. That’s what the protests were about IMO. The snouts-in-troughs club ended up with great new titles and bonuses, while the rest of us just got another bill and the same old creaking infrastructure.

    Not surprised you didn’t see that, having been so near the trough for so long.

      1. Tabloid Rag

        So do I. It’s fun to see Dan revert to being the craven apologist for tax and spend libtards that we already secretly knew he was.

    1. Cian

      Hansel, if they had done it your way and created IW, invested billions upgrading the system, and *then* introduced charges they would have been accused of investing just to privatise IW once it was working.

      1. Tabloid Rag

        Wow erudite and insightful stuff there as always from Cian

        I think what you are trying to say is that then they would have been forced to flog it off at fair market value instead of for nothing

      2. Hansel


        Maybe, maybe not, we can both speculate. I could point out that Centrica’s acquisition of a new Aghada 445MW power plant at a knock-down rate didn’t see *that* much weeping/gnashing of teeth and certainly no public protests I can think of. And we can both agree that if they had done it “my” way, first investing massively in the infrastructure, then we’d at least have proper water infrastructure to show for it.

        I’ll also happily concede that it’s very easy for me to say all this AFTER they tried (and failed) doing it “their” way first. But why not change strategy? That’s the bit that upsets me most: they just keep on crashing the car into the wall in the hope that at some point it gets through and can finally say “it wasn’t a car crash, we succeeded and all those hundreds of thousands of doubters were wrong”. Ridiculous.

    2. Dan Boyle

      There is a stand alone road company. Its called Transport Infrastructure Ireland, formerly the National Roads Authority. Amazing the info you pick up at the trough.

      1. Hansel

        That was my point Dan. I think you might not have understood what I was trying to say (likely due to my rambling too much).
        My entire point was that improvement in infrastructure is not necessarily linked with billing and that your article conflates the two. We don’t improve road infrastructure by setting up a detailed billing system, but rather by focusing on the infrastructure itself. Billing should be a government level policy (just like roads) wholly segregated from the infrastructure company until the infrastructure is upgraded (like motorway tolls) and I’d suggest that the water analogy here would be to use the property tax.

        My “you at the trough” snide remark referred to the fact that you conflated billing the proles with improving the infrastructure. My jibe was that “only someone at government level could ever jump so freely from thinking about fixing major infrastructure to thinking about billing the population”. They’re not connected. They might both be necessary and important, but they’re actually not directly connected. You know well that we have an overall tax take and rarely ringfence any taxes for anything.

        Billing the public will NOT fix anything directly. That’s my point, albeit one I may have made badly.

          1. Hansel

            That’s a very irrelevant comment and totally beside the point Dan.

            Not sure if you even read what I wrote.

            I like cake, by the way. And the sky is blue.

          2. Dan Boyle

            I read and I didn’t agree. I was pointing out irrational behaviour can be easily identified.


    Dan you have reduced yourself & your ramblings to click bait at this stage.

    A windup merchant.

    1. Hansel

      In fairness a good dose of billing somebody should solve most of the problems in our water infrastructure.

  10. Bernadette Moloney

    I abhor the name Irish Water when I hear it, especially in the last number of weeks. Our councils were tasked with looking after our water infrastructure, and obviously they have failed, even with the money that was supposed to have been allocated to it. But I believe this is because of inaction of successive Governments, and suddenly during the ‘recession’ Europe and FF/FG decided ‘oh a great time to introduce a quango, which we will eventually privitase’, Irish Water was born and millions were allocated to it, including bonuses and everything else. So as well as paying for all of the Council’s around the country, we are now paying for Irish Water!! No I cannot agree with this. Water needs to go back to Local Authorities and proper supervision be given to it. Or else stop paying Councillors, who are steadily having nothing to look after……..no social housing, no bin service, no water, so what do they do?

  11. Downwithdaysul

    That the article is written by the former Irish Fianna Green TD tells you everything you need to know – he was part of the crew that gave us the 2008 motor tax rates, and the directly foreseeable result of the highest % of diesel cars of almost any country on the planet.

    The truth is now slowly dawning on the public. They are now learning what should have been obvious all along – that diesels are noisy, slow and – above all else – the worst for air quality.

    And he still calls himself a Green? It would be funny if it were not for the illnesses directly attributable to and lives lost caused diesel pollution in our towns, villages and cities – plenty of research links and evidence is available on the web.

    1. Dan Boyle

      Yes they are. Greens never promoted diesel cars. The motor tax changes were based on emissions regardless of fuel type. Car manufacturers fiddled their emission figures. The rest of your rant is immaterial. You’re pushing a false premise on personal prejudice.

      1. I'm "alright" Jack. Mad Jack is on annual leave.

        This is gibberish – no cost benefit was ever carried out on whether it was more beneficial in terms of whole life cycle emissions to keep existing cars on the road or give what was effectively a wealth transfer incentive to foreign owned private motor companies to fiddle the figures on the emissions of their cars. Let’s not forget the supernormal profits earned by motor manufacturers were repatriated abroad and then the Irish consumer is illegally double taxed on the cost of imports of used cars against EU free market principles.
        You’re either complicit in a fraud or else a complete idiot. After reading your angry screeds here in response to being criticised I know which.

        1. Dan Boyle

          Any sale of any new car in Ireland increases negatively our balance of trade and yet any increase in new car sales is presented as an economic good. Now that’s gibberish.

      2. Downwithdaysul

        “Car manufacturers fiddled their emission figures.”

        I have no doubt that that happened. But it is part of the responsibility of government to foresee such risks and factor into their plans – it’s called joined-up thinking.

        Plus, as the other poster states, there seems to build in potential environmental damage over a motor vehicle’s life span.

        Water charges, we live on a small rainy island with a temperate climate, and according to your lot, climate change will cause rainier conditions here.

        Another fine policy brought to us by the Greens was the minimum sq footage restrictions on new builds. I see no reason why a single person or even a couple should not be permitted to purchase or rent a 500- sq foot flat . It is certainly preferable to them being homeless or sharing vastly over-crowded accommodation. The Green-introduced restrictions on apartment square footages is a factor – not the only factor, granted, and probably not the most important one- but certainly a factor in the current homelessness crisis.

        1. Dan Boyle

          Minimum size, ridding the shoebox accomodation that was previously available, was a good thing. Absolutely nothing to do with homelessness. Cost of land and vacant properties are where attention needs to be given.

          1. Downwithdaysul

            Well, Fine Gael have reversed it so its history now in any case.

            Cost of land and vacant properties are significant issues, granted. And corruption, unfortunately.

  12. Downwithdaysul

    ^ sorry, what I meant to say in the third paragraph in my post above was:

    as the other poster points out, no cost benefit was ever carried out on whether it was more beneficial in terms of whole life cycle emissions to keep existing cars on the road or give what was effectively a wealth transfer incentive to foreign owned private motor companies to fiddle the figures on the emissions of their cars.

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