The controversial rumours that the Government will bring in legislation allowing Irish Water deduct water bills directly from wages and welfare payments of people who refuse to pay water charges, failed to materialise this week at the Fine Gael/Labour Government Cabinet meeting, 1st April 2015, Irish Times. We have been given another fortnight, it seems, until the next Cabinet meeting to see if the media's hyperbole 'stronger compliance measures', 'fast track courts', 'attachment of earnings' or 'new legislation' will in fact come true.
After Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment in an interview on Morning Ireland 23rd March 2015 said “we will bring in legislation to deal with people who won't pay their water charges”, the media frenzy began. Next day there was speculation that the Government was planning this and that sanction against defaulters. The number of defaulters is still unknown unless you believe Irish Water or Government figures. The real number of households registered with Irish Water is anyone's guess. Really this number can not be verified unless there is full transparency in Irish Water's facts and figures.
Spin Doctors and the Media
The media, like birds picking over bones, quickly escalated the threats from Mr Kelly. Using it's mass media tools, they informed the public that new penalties were going to be brought in by the Government against people who did not pay their bills. Before you knew it the country was once again embroiled in controversy, threats, misinformation and speculation. A state the country has been in since the formation of Irish Water Ltd under the Water Services Act which was made law on 20th March 2013.
The Independent.ie said "the Government plans to introduce tough new rules which will allow judges to order employers, pension funds and the Department of Social Protection to take the unpaid charge directly from income in the event of non-payment."
The Media, quite often in relation to the Irish Water issue, used 'sources' in order to substantiate their claims. Who in fact these sources were is not given but we can speculate that the information came from spin doctors within government itself. However, it was often the case that quotes were direct statements from government or Irish Water spokespersons who gave their views as to what this or that may happen.
After the media's warning of impending sanction, it now turns out that these sanctions were not so immediate after all. We have once again been put on tenterhooks for another couple of weeks to find out if the spin will be substantiated. The Irish Times said that "it is likely they will be discussed at the next meeting of ministers in a fortnight's time.
Buncrana Together could just as easily quote our sources as saying that the Government coalition is at loggerheads over water charges. Even though there may be grains of truth in articles, it does not necessarily mean that it is fact or it will happen. Or if say Irish Water or the Government was reported as saying that the deadline for registration with Irish Water is such and such date, would you believe that? There can be ulterior motives for spinning a line or two, such as creating doubt and panic in the public's minds thus trying to affect the outcome. In this case from the amount of statements about the Government and Irish Water being satisfied with the number of people signing up with Irish Water, it is obvious what the motives are. The Government and Irish Water arenot satisfied at all, they are worried.
Some Media Showing Light
The Tanaiste Joan Burton, was quoted in The Irish Examiner "it would be deeply problematic to deduct from welfare claimants who are unwilling to pay water charges"
Enda Kenny said in same article while trying to back up Alan Kelly that “There is a need for compliance and people to understand there will be equality in regard to compliance and that everybody who can pay should and will pay.”
Although The Irish Times did not elaborate they said in this article " the introduction of attachment orders, especially in relation to welfare payments, has not met with universal approval within the Government parties and there have been discussions in recent weeks around these issues.
From statements like these it seems Mr Kelly and some media have jumped the gun.
BeYourOwnReason in Medium.com called it a 'Dangerous precedent' and said " The Master of the High Court has warned “fast-track” court procedures — under which banks get final money judgements solely on a judge’s view of the credibility of any sworn written defence — may breach the entitlements of defendants under the European Convention on Human Rights (link)
And of course Buncrana Together " 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."
Buncrana Together April 6, 2015