The Water Charges: Will They Sink the Irish Government?

Irish water protests

I’ve booked the day off work, have a return ticket in my purse and am all geared up for the historic bus journey I intend making to our capital on the 10th December 2014 with thousands of my fellow Irish citizens.

It strikes me as ironic that it was on a bus back in December 1955 that the peaceful protest of just one fine lady, Rosa Parks, provided the impetus for righting the wrongs of segregation and opened the way for the African-American community in the United States to press ahead with their struggle for a more equitable society.

A journey of thus far 59 years duration that has by no means reached its destination and a clear indicator of the struggle we face on our own small island to reclaim the promise of the 1916 Proclamation that declared its resolve:

“…to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts…”

I take “the whole nation and all of its parts” to mean each and every one of its citizens.

The distinction in the segregation that exists in our own society may be less obvious, since the colour of one’s skin is not a defining factor. However, the atmosphere of neglect and abandonment of the Irish People by our political leaders, captains of industry and money moguls is palpable and the injustice every bit as keenly felt.

Now, I’d in no way compare myself to the wonderfully courageous Rosa Parks, but I certainly align myself with her beliefs and innate sense of social justice. I’m a firm believer in all men/women having been created equal and am adamantly opposed to an economic and political system (particularly a corrupt one) where a country’s trade and industry, executed on the backs of its hard-working citizens, are controlled and manipulated by private owners and self-serving public representatives to profit a privileged few.

And therein lies the point at issue, the one thing the politicians have gotten right – it’s not just about the water charges.

A Country of Double Standards: The Double Irish and The Citizens’ Double Irish

Despite the fact that the People’s reaction to the bank bailouts and property tax has been woefully underreported by mainstream media, even they couldn’t ignore that, as they put it (because they didn’t want to quantify it), tens of thousands of Irish people came out in a show of strength on the first day of November to voice their disapproval of the Government’s most recent austerity measure – the water charges.

The announcement that staff at Irish Water, even those who were non-performing, werein line for bonuses had ignited a bonfire under hard-pressed citizens that outshone anything seen during the Halloween celebrations the night before and one that couldn’t be extinguished, not even by the deluge of rainfall that fell on the day of the protests.

Austerity-ridden citizens, incensed that unwarranted bonuses were being promised at the same time as they were being bombarded with threats by the Government around this indirect tax, called a halt to its imposition with shouts of “NO way, we won’t pay!”

And the voices were those of citizens from every divide. Not (as is being insinuated by the spin doctors) sinister dissident groups, but ordinary people, some of whom had never protested before, and all of them passionately united in their belief that water is a human right and not a commodity.

Water Charge Protest

So what’s behind the galvanisation of a nation that in the main sat back and docilely accepted bank bailouts and a tax on properties that had plummeted in value without causing so much as a ripple?

And, as the good Europeans we’re noted to be, why do we feel no guilt at withholding payment for this apparently finite resource (which we are reliably informed “doesn’t fall from the sky”) whilst our European neighbours fork out for their supply?

Do we not think it our duty to safe-guard the environment and our nation’s good health by bankrolling the plugging of a leaky system and replacement of dangerous lead pipes?

And where are the “…most reasonable people…” to which our ministers refer when attempting to align themselves with the electorate, whilst denigrating protestors as dissident republican infiltrators or poor confused citizens who need clarification regarding their obligation to pay?

The answers to these questions need to be filtered through to our Government so that they’ll understand the strength of our feelings around this issue, and across the water to our European partners so that they’ll realise it’s not only the people of Ireland that our Government are seeking to dupe.

It kind of reminds me of the story about the Irish mammy who wanted a washing machine.

You know the tale; she writes to her four offspring, who’ve all done well overseas, and hints that she’d love a washing machine, but when each of them sends her on the full amount she neglects to tell them that the washing machine has been paid for four times over!

Anyway, our Government is like the Irish mammy – devious and grasping – and our European peers are like the clueless offspring, believing everything they’re told.

It’s only those of us here at home that are witness to their duplicitous, avaricious ways.

First, and most importantly, we already pay for our water through general taxation. We have done so now for many years since our underhanded Government of the timeincreased motor tax and VAT to accommodate a domestic water charge they professed to have abolished.

Do our European peers know (or even care) that that is the case?

And that being the case, aren’t we entitled to ask why then, since we’ve been paying for it all these years, our water system has been allowed to degenerate to such an extent that at best it wastes a precious natural resource and at worst is hazardous to health in so many different areas throughout the country?

Could it be that the money collected surreptitiously by our Government for water under the 1997 Act was instead channeled off into less worthy coffers, such as public representatives’ over-inflated salaries and undeserved pension funds?

Are you beginning to get my drift?

Those reasonable people to whom the ministers refer (when grasping at the straw that broke the camel’s back, in an effort to appeal to our better nature and effect our compliance) are the self-same people who took to the streets on November 1st and demanded to be heard.

They’re the ones who pay each and every time they use the public health system, the roads, the fire services, the libraries, refuse collections, etc, despite the fact that (just like their European counterparts) they already pay hefty taxes to fund these services, including the one recently slapped onto their negative equity properties.

Do our European peers know (or even care) that we pay at least twice for everything in this country?

It’s what I like to call:

“The Citizens’ Double Irish” [Tweet this]

This is the “us” as opposed to “them” side of the Irish taxation coin; we the People make up for the shortfall in revenue-take left by foreign multinationals deflecting their tax liabilities (through tax avoidance schemes) back onto the hard-pressed citizens, so that we end up having to pay separately for the public services that should be covered by general taxation.

And it is that gross inequity, along with the ethics of our public representatives (who side-lined a fair tendering process to assist the formation of one specific private company, which will be given carte blanche to hold the nation to ransom for access to an essential element of life) which is behind our eventual exasperated unrest and the motivation for our resistance to this unfair tax.

The Voice of a Nation Can’t Be Carried Abroad by a Deaf Leader

Having thus far taken austerity on the chin, our unexpected revolt is causing turmoil among the mainstream parties.

Suddenly it’s time for damage limitation and to appease the awakening spirit of the nation with yet more empty promises. Our heretofore intransigent ministers are dancing among the licking flames of the fire that’s been lit, issuing meaningless assurances and tripping over each other in the process.

And top on the list of our fine upstanding leaders’ priorities: whoever succumbs to the flames, let it not be me!

So Kenny mumbles his way through Leaders’ Questions and Joan offers her “personal opinion”, and meanwhile it’s business as usual as Irish Water are directed to keep a low profile and shift their groundwork to less vocal communities for the time being.

Then progress at last! The Government make a sincere promise to the nation that within a couple of weeks they’ll come up with a comprehensive package to clarify everything, and low and behold our Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly promises a reasonable fixed rate charge for the next four years (and is pretty smug about its acceptability).

Well, there you go – all’s well that ends well!

So we can all toddle back to our homes (those of us who still have one), throw the banners into the loft and not worry our drowned wet heads about paying for water, because the Government has promised us that everything is going to be sorted.

They’ve purposefully (mis)interpreted our fears, and conjured up what they think might be an appetising enough carrot to assuage our skittishness and enlist compliance from among our ranks for just long enough to get everyone, apart from the real intransigents, back into the stalls.

Well, I don’t know about you but I think we’re pretty clear and pretty unwavering in our resolve.

Actually (and this is only my opinion) I think it’s the Government who need clarity:

Did our message get through or, like so many things around Government, has it become corrupted?

Do they understand that we are serious when we say “WE WON’T PAY”, and our belief around the issue is that water is an essential element for life itself and no-one has the right to turn it into a commodity?

When they proffer further allowances, do they think we are stupid?

Have they realised yet that the game is up and we no longer fall for their spin?

Do they not see that at long last the citizens of this country have united?

Ok, I fully accept that as a protester I’m proffering an emotive opinion in a fairly biased manner but I have no intention of apologising for that.

We’re at a crucial stage in the development of our country and it’s understandable why privatisation of water became the tipping point for so many. When there are moves to commercialise a natural element that is essential to life itself then everything in our being cries out against the injustice of access to it through affordability.

We are already witnessing communities in the developed world having access to water denied, even in cities like Detroit where the service remains in the public domain. In those circumstances, what compassion can those who can’t pay expect from a privately owned commercial entity?

When our forefathers fought to free us from oppression, do you think they envisaged a time in our country’s history where we would return to evictions, fear and economic slavery at the hands of our own leaders?

This time around it’s our own disgrace; our own shame as a nation. There is no fall guy, no bullying neighbour.

If we let it be done unto us by our own then we are collectively responsible.

It’s not just about the water. It’s about the respect we have for our fellow countrymen and women, and our sense of the entitlement of every citizen in Ireland (and in other countries around the world) to occupy Earth on an equal footing.

We’ve all heard the phrase “we’re living in a global economy”, but more importantly, we’re living in a global community. When we allow exclusion to something as fundamental as water, we are undermining a right to life that we are all entitled to and allowing an entitlement to profit from the denigration of others that none deserve.

Furthermore, it’s time for this small island to emerge from the shadows and define itself as a nation by shedding the shackles of past oppressions rather than emulating them. For that to happen we need a leader that will listen to the voice of the nation and carry its message to the leaders of the world, and that won’t happen when our plea is falling on deaf ears.

Our reputation as a nation of saints and scholars may have taken a hammering in recent times, and we may have strayed from our ideals onto the path of materialism during the Celtic Tiger era.

At this turning point in our history we need to redefine our ideals and values and proudly declare them to the world, so that we can take our rightful place as a country and relinquish the shroud of servitude cast by our abusive relationship with past masters. It’s only then that we can call ourselves a nation.

WE are the Republic of Ireland.

Images courtesy of Protests, meetings, marches around Ireland and William Murphy. If you liked this, help spread the word by sharing it: