The Oireachtas Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services resumed yesterday having failed to come to a majority decision last Wednesday at it’s scheduled final meeting .
A report was to be presented to Dáil Éireann next Monday, March 13th.
However, according to Anti Austerity Alliance, Paul Murphy, Fianna Fáil agreed to an extension to the deadline until April 14, apparently to look into yet more legal arguments. See RTE News for details.
Why and whether it should take another four weeks is highly questionable especially since it is now over a year since the general election when the democratic wish of the Irish people to abolish water charges was clearly shown.
Water Committee at a stalemate
The 20-member committee is split at 10-10, with ten members for abolishing water chargesand ten members for charging and metering. The latter's option is dressed up as 'charging for excessive use' with a designated maximum free water allowance, the argument being that this is reasonable, environmentally friendly and adheres to the EU principle of cost recovery. Opponents of water charges, like ourselves, argue that this approach necessitates metering, itemised billing, that the free allowance will be whittled away, bit by bit, and in order to get full cost recovery these charges for water and sanitation services will increase significantly. The idea of metering to opponents is really a red line issue and the use of metering for excessive use is seen as economically unsound, like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut.
The final 10 v 10 tally is misleading. In our view the voting should really be 10/9 in favour of abolishing charges. However, due to a procedural sleight of hand by the Government the chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh was allowed to vote and sided with the Fine Gael position. (see photos below for breakdown of vote)
It is interesting to note that the make-up of this committee and the 10/10 vote, does not really reflect the position and numbers of TDs in the Dáil who promised to support abolition of water charges. The majority of TDs in the Irish Parliament were elected last year on a ticket of abolishing water charges, metering and indeed Irish Water Ltd itself.
The make-up and 'Term of Reference' of this Joint Committee is not a coincidence,. Not only does the make-up of members not reflect a true representation of opinions but also the fact that it's 'Terms of reference' did not include 'commercial charges' and the Irish Water company. It was clearly demonstrated many times throughout the debates when the chairman stopped members in their tracks when asking about 'commercial charges'.
The minority Fine Gael Government pulled out all the stops to defuse mass opposition. It used and still is using Fianna Fáil’s political position, the 'Agreement for Government' and Fianna Fáil’s reluctance to trigger an election at the present time.
Below committee members voting to abolish charging and metering
Below committee members voting for charging and metering
Delaying and stalling the democratic process
Although Fine Gael portrays itself as reasonable and willing negotiators , in reality, they have done everything in their power to railroad water charges and metering. They have prolonged the process and stalled what should have been an inevitable democratic Dáil vote.
For the past number of years Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition spent billions of Euro on Irish Water Ltd. Along with some willing Independents and the Green Party, they threatened, cajoled, misinformed, even battered young and old alike in order to steamroll what could be described as an EU IMF austerity package. They used big guns from the European Commission, the Attorney General, the Civil Service and media to misinform and threaten European sanctions.
Since last year's general election after assuming office the minority Fine Gael government have used the 'Agreement for Government, with Fianna Fáil and the latter's reluctance to trigger an early election, to delay a Dáil vote. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agreed the settingup of an 'Expert Water Commission' and the 'Joint Oireachtas Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water'. A process which has taken over a year to get this far. Meanwhile Irish Water Ltd is getting more and more entrenched and the Government and European Commission are circling the wagons.
Fine Gael miscalculated mood of people and Fianna Fáil's trust must be earned
However, Fine Gael did not bank on a combination of unforeseen events like; 1) Eurostat refusing to allow Irish Water Ltd to go off Government books, 2) the damning report from the Expert Water Commission, 3) Fianna Fáil sticking to it's election promises, ( well so far) and 4) the many important facts and figures that managed to trickle out of what Fine Gael thought were sure things such as Eurostat, The Expert Water Commission and even the much politically loaded Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water itself. Facts and figures that contradicted what the Government and officials were telling the Irish people.
Briefly some of these were 1) Irish Water Ltd could not exist off Government books, 2) Irish Water borrowing was more expensive than Government borrowing, 3) there is a derogation, a 9.4 exemption in the Water Framework Directive which allows Ireland to opt out of domestic charging, 4) there are other ways to implement and fulfill the WFD objectives other than itemised billing, charging and metering, 5) the Irish do not use excessive amounts of water, 6) over 60% of treated water wastage comes from the public mains system, 7) Individual metering is not used in Scotland and N. Ireland and Scottish Water emphasised that individual metering is not needed to detect excessive use.
However, the most important fact of all, so important that the Expert Commission referred to several times in it’s report and reiterated by the Public Water Forum, is the fact that the Irish people have no ‘Trust’ in Government and it's water policy.
‘Trust’ and willingness of people are necessaryto make anything work but it is this 'Trust' that Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party have lost. It is this notion of ‘Trust’ that Fianna Fáil would do well to heed especially given that it's party rose from the ashes through their election manifesto that promised to abolish water charges, metering and Irish Water.
Sisyphus relentless struggle
The mammoth struggle of Irish citizens against Government, EU and IMF bulldozing austerity measures through, brings to mind the story of Sisyphus in the underworld who was punished by Zeus for deceitfulness, craftiness and self-aggrandisement, to endlessly push a boulder up a hill only for it to fall back down.
Only in this case it is the Irish people being punished for Government’s endless deceit again and again.