Catherine Connolly - People are not Polluters - Water Services Amendment Bill 2016

Catherine Connolly, Independent TD for Galway West speaking in the Dáil on the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016 on June 28, 2016.   In this commendable and forthright speech, Ms Connolly gives what can only be described as a positive, rational, no holes barred, description of what many in the Anti Water Charges' campaign deeply feel.  

The speech includes what must be the first time that anyone has heard a person objecting to the term 'Polluter' referring to users  of water.  This is a very important, subtle term. It has now become fashionable and crops up in all official documentation and studies in relation to the environment, water and the public.  It is a loaded term that denotes 'wrong doing' which has to be punished, restricted and paid for.  It is a term used to turn people into consumers and water into a commodity.  

 Ms Connolly says" I take exception to the word that 'Polluter Pays' and I am tired of that terminology.  I am not a polluter, most people are not polluters, we are users of a basic service that we can't live without.  And to say that we have to be punished in order to save, well that's ridiculous in the extreme"

Catherine Connolly's full speech in Dáil June 28, 2016

Gabhaim buíochas as ucht an deis cainte ar an ábhar thar a bheith tábhachtach seo a bheith faighte agam. Tá gá práinneach ann réiteach a fháil sa chomhthéacs seo, ach ní hí seo an réiteach. Níl anseo ach cur i gcéill amach is amach. Tá sé suimiúil go bhfuil an Rialtas, cosúil leis an Rialtas a bhí againn an bhliain seo caite, an-tógtha le Lá na nAmadán. Sa bhliain 2015, sheol siad amach na billí ar an gcéad lá de mhí Aibreáin.

Is í an dáta céanna atá i gceist arís sa dhéachtreachtaíocht seo.

I am thankful for the opportunity to contribute on a subject that is most important. I come from Galway city and have a background of having served as a member of a local authority for 17 years and I am acutely aware of the importance of water services, a cryptosporidium crisis and a polluted lake. As I speak, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 people around Carraroe, in Connemara, cannot drink their water. I do not speak from a position of negativity or as part of the radical loony left but as a very pragmatic, practical, radical woman who believes that in any civilised society there are basic services that unite us in solidarity with each. Water is one of those services, as are waste collection services and health and education services.

It seems that this is a complete pretence and fudge of an issue, and there are more holes in this apparent solution as there are, unfortunately, in our water system that is leaking on a daily basis. The figures we had in Galway were that there is anything up to 40% leakage from the system. We have to deal with that but I am afraid that Fianna Fáil has failed and I do not expect Fine Gael to change that. However, I at least respect its position. It has repeatedly said that water charges are necessary. Fianna Fáil told the electorate that they were not and that it would vote to get rid of them. Rather than use our time and our new energy and the broad range of opinion in this Dáil to find a solution and to work together, we are using our energy on draft legislation that is going nowhere and which will give a watery birth in nine months time that will not be a solution to anything, with the possibility of further extensions if we need them, depending on the political situation. That is while the metering situation continues against people's wishes. We do not want it.

We want to conserve water. I take exception to the phrase, "the polluter pays". I am tired of that terminology. I am not a polluter and most people are not polluters; we are users of a basic service that we cannot live without. To say that we need to be punished in order to save is ridiculous in the extreme. It does not tie in with any research in psychology or with marketing. People must be brought on board in terms of this issue and most of us want to be brought on board. We have children and we want to hand down a better environment to them and the best way to do that is to bring us all on board.

In terms of education, that should happen with the Government and the European Union, which continue to look on citizens as polluters and users of services rather than as active citizens who want to share in making the world a better place. If Fianna Fáil was seriously interested in new politics it would stand with us and say, "Stop this charade and have a referendum to ensure that water remains in public ownership". That would give confidence to the people.

What really highlights the cynicism of the entire approach is the €100 grant that was brought in to help us to conserve water but now it has been scrapped, which shows that it was just a foolish bribe at the time. However, as can be seen, people are not easily bribed. Now that it is gone, Fianna Fáil does not care about whether we conserve water. There is not a word in the legislation about conservation. There is no reward for us as users, nor is there any positive mechanism to keep us on board. No money being made available to local authorities to help them.

I became a member of the local authority in 1999 and left it when I was elected to this House. During that time we begged the Government for funding. We knew exactly what was happening. We had very good staff on the ground whose number have since been reduced. We had good engineers and other staff but they were all removed. More than 20% of the local authority staff in Galway was reduced. How could they carry out any sort of job on water services? Even within that they gave us an excellent service. If a problem arose and we called them, they came out immediately. We now have a situation where we make a telephone call to a service in Cork, which results in us going around in circles.

I am not in the business of demonising Irish Water. I believe the demonisation of the chief executive officer of Irish Water, the former city manger of Galway, was and is unacceptable. I have had my rows with that man but it is unacceptable to demonise Irish Water and its staff when it was set up to provide a service. When what was happening was exposed, however, through very good journalism, there were heads on a platter rather than the Government taking stock and saying it should examine this because it is not working.

Without a doubt, Irish Water was set up with a view to privatising the service. That privatisation has been stopped in its tracks for the moment but I am not foolish enough to believe we have stopped the tide. We have done nothing of the sort. We have simply tried to hold the system to account on behalf of the people who put us in this House. We promised the people who elected us that we would strive and do our best to ensure people had a water service as a human right, which is what they, and we, deserve, and that it would be paid for out of taxes.

I have a difficulty with this issue. While I welcome the suspension of water charges I believe it is the wrong way to go in the sense that we should abolish them and work together to have a service, paid for from taxation, that brings us all on board. Many ways have been outlined for increasing the level of taxation but it is an insult to the people to say they do not want to pay for services. They do, but they want to pay for them out of their taxes and it is our role as a Dáil to increase and broaden the tax base to allow us provide basic services. Dividing one citizen from another, as we have done with health in terms of private and public health care, bin charges in terms of those who can afford to pay them and those who cannot, and repeating the process with water is shocking.

Those in Government have got caught up with an EU mantra that is foolish in the extreme where we at the lowest level have to comply with rules but those at the highest levels do not. They are also deliberately misinterpreting a water directive when it could be interpreted in a positive way to conserve water, and to examine how we can do that and how we can bring people on board. Those in Government and, particularly Fianna Fáil, have wasted a golden opportunity and it shows up the cynicism of the new politics that its members have come in here day after day since February to talk about.

Original article:oireachtá, June 28, 2016