The anti-water charge demonstration, organised by Ireland's national Right2Water organisation which took place in Dublin on Saturday 21st March 2015 seems to have provoked a reaction from the Irish Government. Was it the number of protestors that showed up, around 100,000, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, at the same time as the national rugby team was playing against Scotland for the glory of winning the Grand Slam, that shocked the government into a response? It would be a natural reaction to respond especially after spining a line that protests were dwindling throughout the country. In any event it is a coincidence that the Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, gave a statement on RTE radio programme Morning Ireland on Monday 23rd March 2015 saying “we will bring in legislation to deal with people who won't pay their water charges”
He did not give a timeline as to when the legislation would be brought in or indeed what would be in the legislation. But he said that “ legislation and regulations will be brought in to ensure that everyone will be treated the same”. When he was asked by the interviewer about what penalties would be included or what the legislation timeline would be, minister Kelly said “ I won't discuss it live on air”. He then seemed to contradict his earlier statement about everyone being treated the same when he said “ there would be a distinction between those who can't pay or find it difficult to pay to those who refuse to pay”. Mr Kelly went on to say that he would be discussing the timeline of the legislation with his Cabinet colleagues tomorrow Tuesday 24th March. What form this threatened legislation will take or it's timeline we do not know but it will be interesting to see if there is any substance to the Minister's threats. If there isn't any then there will be a big question mark over the his statements. If there is substance will it be that the government will go back on it's already stated agreement that people will be given 12 months to pay, after which time there will be a late payment fee of €30 a year for a single-adult household and €60 a year for a household with 2 or more adults?
Could it be that the new legislation, if any, will include what is being bantered about on social media, i.e taking money out of wages or social welfare? An important point here is the fact that households have been given 12 months to pay water charges. Any new measures the Government brings in to combat non-payment would only come into effect after 12 months. There are strong rumours that a general election will be called within this time frame.
No matter the outcome, after today's statements the government will either be seen as dishonest and vindictive or they will be seen as introducing yet another piece of draconian legislation in response to the popularity of the anti-water charges campaign.
Mr Kelly's answer on the same radio programme in response to a question about Saturday's demonstation “ We believe people will engage with Irish Water and pay their bills” is interesting because it is very similar to one made on the very same day by Tanaiste Joan Burton on Newstalk in response to a question about the demonstration “ I accept that many people still object to charges for water on a point of principle, however, I am standing by the government's plans and people will accept them in time”. The similarity in these two separate statements would tend to support the theory that the government is rattled by Saturday's water charges demonstration. It's as if they had discussed a response over the weekend.
More PR, Spin and Number Games
Mr Kelly said on the same programme that he is happy with the level of compliance with water charges through registration with Irish Water and also said that some 1.23m people have now registered with Irish Water. He went on to say that 130,000 signed up in the past month. Are we to believe these figures? Are these numbers spin or fact? Mr Kelly admitted in the interview that the Government had reacted to mistakes made in the setting up of Irish Water. These continual blunders over the introduction of Irish Water, the government's reactions to popular discontent and the goverment's plugging of the holes in the legislation, have left a great number of Irish citizens disbelieving any figures that ministers come out with. The only way the Irish people will be convinced is through total transparity in Irish Water. If Irish Water is owned by the Irish people and it has nothing to hide then why not open their books and be completly honest. Is this being naive?
Buncrana Toghether 23 March 2015