Ireland: Huge anti-water charge march says 'We're not going away, you know'

Thousands of people gathered in Dublin, August 29.

Tens of thousands of people took part in a huge anti-water charge rally in Dublin on August 29 under the banner: “We’re not going away, you know!”

This is the fifth demonstration Right2Water has organised in opposition to deeply unpopular water charges. About 500,000 people have attended Right2Water protests to date.

The charges are viewed of an extension of the austerity measures that hit the poor to pay for propping up the big banks that caused the economic crisis. The structure of Irish Water is also seen a sign of plans to privatise the new body.

Unite union official and Right2Water coordinator Brendan Ogle said the march was a “family affair”, saying: “We want to voice our opposition to Irish Water and the unfairness of the way it is structured.”

The campaign was given a boost after the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union became the sixth trade union to join the movement. The TEEU, the country’s largest craft union, is calling on the government to abolish water charges with immediate effect.

The protests have already had some effect. After a demonstration last October, the government announced revised water charges. It said all water bills would be capped until January 2019 and each household could claim a water conservation grant of 100 euro a year if they respond to payment requests.

Before the march, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has called for the largest possible turnout to demand an end to water charges and the abolition of Irish Water.

“The Fine Gael/Labour government’s water policy has been an unmitigated disaster from the outset,” he said. “The provision of water is a human right and a key public asset.”

Adams said the domestic water charges, originally proposed by the former Fianna Fail-led government, represented an unfair form of double taxation on ordinary householders “who have borne the brunt of the economic crash in recent years”.

“Irish Water has been dogged by controversy, cronyism and the squandering of public money since its inception. It is a toxic brand.

“Whether they simply cannot pay or refuse to pay, the reality is that the majority of households have not signed up to Irish Water. It’s going nowhere.”

Speaking at the Right2Water press conference, Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said the government had been desperately trying to deflect from the issue of water taxation.

“The government have failed and failed again. Irish Water has been a disaster from the outset. It is time that we galvanise all those who are fed up of the absolute black hole waste of resources and ask the government en masse to scrap these unfair charges once and for all.”

He said a Sinn Fein government would abolish the water charges, retain water services in public ownership and establish a new model of governance with democratic control, accountability and transparency.

“Water is a key public asset and it is also a human right and our water services must be organised with the greatest efficiency for the benefit of all our citizens.”

But controversial environment minister Alan Kelly said the fees will never be abolished.

“No matter who is in government after the next election, none of the parties will abolish Irish Water,” he said. “If you believe they will you’re mistaken.

“The parties who say they will immediately abolish Irish Water and it will be the first thing on their agenda are being completely disingenuous. Irish Water is here to stay.”

In a change of heart, the Labour politician insisted the 100 euro “conservation grant” - dubbed a “voter bribe” by the opposition - would now only be given to people who pay their water bills. He warned that those trying to avoid paying will have to pay more in the long run through penalty fees and fines.

He said there was no escape and legislation being pushed by justice minister Frances Fitzgerald will ensure people have to pay up.

Sinn Fein’s Aenghus O Snodaigh said Kelly’s declaration that “one way or another everyone will pay” was a bid to intimidate vulnerable people into paying for the government’s failed project “with utter disregard for people’s ability to pay”.

“Labour are speaking out of both sides of their mouth, claiming to give with one hand whilst waving a clenched fist, in the form of threats of penalties, with the other.”

According to opinion polls, Labour faces losing up to 30 seats in what is predicted to be a virtual wipe-out election for the party. It has little chance of holding on to a seat outside the capital. Opinion poll analysis shows Fine Gael also faces losing 25 to 30 seats.

Fine Gael has reportedly lost faith in Labour as a possible coalition partner and has accepted that a deal with traditional opponent Fianna Fail is its best hope of a return to power.

[Abridged from Irish Republican News.]

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