Our Water meeting with Senior Counsel

Article by James Quigley

                                                                                                                                                              Insert; Matthias Kelly, Q.C.S.C

                                                                                                                                                              Insert; Matthias Kelly, Q.C.S.C

For the past few weeks Buncrana Together hasn’t been too active.  It is due, in my opinion, to a big dose of despondency, that more than likely is terminal.  We are really worn down by the treachery of the leadership in R2W / Sinn Fein, battered by the verbal slings and arrows of their devoted followers and also by what seems to be a futile exercise, trying to awaken some kind of critical thinking not only in the general public but also in Ireland’s so called progressive thinkers.

What criticisms or analysis has there been, for example,  of the massive grassroots movement which at one time was so strong that the majority of Irish households refused to accept the establishment of Irish Water, pay water charges and allow metering? This opposition was so widespread that it was like a revolution,  instrumental in forcing a change of government and abolishing newly introduced legislation. It stopped in it’s tracks the establishment’s multi billion Euro push to privatise water, setting up a quasi private water company, introducing itemised billing of domestic water and the role out of smart water meters.

What analysis was there when after removing the sugar coating, it looks like all that we were fighting against has now been realised? Irish Water is  very much entrenched in minds and legislation. It will shortly role out itemised billing and continue it’s metering programme and little by little the sprinkling of a sugar coating  will be reduced  until all that was envisage by the establishment will be fulfilled.

After years of effort and struggle by the people of Ireland, there wasn’t even a whimper when the R2W affiliated trade unions and politicians joined up with the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s 2016 ‘Programme for Government’ deal in the form of the Expert Water Commission and the Oireachtas Water Committee.

Prior to and during that political duplicity all the R2W leadership and politicians, accepted the principle of a single water company, excessive use charges and metering and enabled the movement’s initiative and momentum to be hijacked and ring-fenced in a long drawn out political process.  

No matter their various agendas it was like they got a whiff of the limelight and saw the potential for political publicity.  The result was they hijacked the movement, wrested it from the people of Ireland and controlled it within their political domain.  From that day on, the day of capitulation, the revolution or potential for political change was nullified. 

Our Water
In our articles in Buncrana Together we have produced a lot of evidence to back up our claims for those willing to read. Evidence that we, as non professional,  were able to gather. However, it was the many unanswered questions together with a lack of official information, (not subject to the Freedom of Information Act), that led us recently to form an ad-hoc group which we called ‘Our Water’,  with the aim was to try get some clarity and explore avenues that we could take, legal or otherwise.  Our main emphasis was on a legal loophole i.e Ireland’s Established Practice, incorporated in Section 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive, and Ireland’s second River Basin Management Plan which was presented to Brussels in April this year. . Both of which received little attention from R2W and the politicians.

Our Water concluded that it needed unbiased legal advice and find out definitively whether there was any legal grounds that we could follow.  Having found out that this was going to be costly we set up a GoFundMe campaign and within two weeks we collected €2500 and arranged a meeting with Matthias Kelly SC in Dublin on 17/05/2018. Our Water representatives at the meeting were James Quigley, Mark mcAuley, Brendan Kelly and Michael Mooney.

Below is a pdf file of the meeting between Our Group and Matthias Kelly Q.C.S.C in the form of questions and answers. (SC denotes Senior Counsel). It is informative but somewhat alarming and unfortunately it is quite long.


MEP MARIAN HARKIN TO SPONSOR REPRESENTATIVES OF ' OUR WATER ' TO BRUSSELS

Marian Harkin, MEP, invited ‘Our Water’ group to explore and assess possibilities of saving Ireland's endangered European 9.4 Domestic Water Charges exemption.

Citizens from around the country have formed a group called ‘Our Water’.   Representatives of the group held a meeting in Letterkenny, Co Donegal,  on February 9th, 2018 with MEP Marian Harkin. 

Ms Harkin agreed to lend her full support to the group.

The Our Water group insist that the Irish Government’s failure to renew Ireland's 9.4 Exemption will be disastrous for the people and it will mean a return to 1) Water Metering  2) Water Billing and  3) The possibility of Water Privatisation.

Michael Mooney, spokesperson for ‘Our Water’ said “Irish people haven't given up their fight, only our politicians have done that. We demand that the government protect the peoples’ interests and renew and maintain our 9.4 Exemption.  If they don’t, our right to and control of this invaluable resource, will be handed over to Brussels and private interests."

Members of the Our Water’ group meeting with MEP Marian Harkin.   L to R; Brendan Kelly, Enda Craig, Marian Harkin, Mark McAuley, James Quigley and Michael Mooney

Members of the Our Water’ group meeting with MEP Marian Harkin.   L to R; Brendan Kelly, Enda Craig, Marian Harkin, Mark McAuley, James Quigley and Michael Mooney

Ms Harkin  agreed to help the group explore the possibilities of saving the 9.4 Exemption as contained in the Water Framework Directive, 2000/60/EC.

The  Exemption  allows Ireland to opt out of full cost recovery of domestic charges if the Government so wish.  Ireland is now on the brink of doing away with it forever and if this happens the Irish Government will be responsible. This point was emphasised by Ms Harkin at the meeting when she said that if this clause is not invoked in the next River Basin Management Plan (RBMP)  then the Irish Government will hand power to Brussels who will determine our domestic funding and infrastructure. The next draft RBMP can be viewed on DHPLG website and is due to be submitted to Brussels in April 2018.  Unfortunately the public will not have the opportunity to view the final plan until it is submitted to Brussels. 

By that stage it could be too late.

Our Water facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/177113226349071/?ref=br_rs


Irish Sleepwalking Down the Road to Full Water Charges

The political class know exactly what it’s about. The majority of Irish citizens haven’t a clue. The result could be that total control over our water will be handed over to Brussels bureaucrats. It all hinges on a little subsection of a European Directive and the willingness of our government to use it. The question is who's going to champion the Irish cause?

by James Quigley

 

The subsection is 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive 2000 (WFD). This simply says member states shall not be in breach of the directive if they decide not to apply full provisions for a given water-use and they shall report the reasons in their River Basin Management Plans (RBMP).

This might not sound much but in reality it is massive. It allows member states to regulate it’s water according to established practices, as long as it does not ″compromise the purposes and the achievement of the objectives of the Directive″. Brussels can not remove this clause but Ireland can give it away and everything is pointing in that direction.

Each member country of the EU is obliged by the WFD to implement three River Basin Management Plans for structuring it’s water resources. By the end of the third, supposedly 2027, all members states should be in full compliance. Ireland, however, is three years late with their second RBMP with it’s draft plan just put up on the DHPLG website. It is open for submissions until February 28th.

According to a department information officer Ireland’s finalised plan will be published on April 2018, the same day that it is sent to the EU Commission. It will then be subject to 3 month’s of negotiations where the Irish Government must supply all supporting documentation. However there is speculation that these negotiations could run on much longer and then they could be affected by further rumours of a total revamp of the Water Framework Directive itself later on this year.

Should the unsuspecting public be wary?

The following is an extract of the draft River Basin Management Plan, page 20.  I look upon the explanation of the 2010 plan wrong.  It is a subjective one that suits their purpose but it does not give the full facts. Bear in mind that because they say something, it does not necessarily means it is fact. You might see what they are trying to do when you read the second part of the paragraph i.e. our ‘established practice’ is gone, full steam ahead.

″The first cycle of river basin management plans was completed in 2010. Ireland signaled an intention to introduce water charges and did not avail of the exemption outlined in article 9(4) of the WFD. In line with article 9(2) of the WFD, we will be required in the final river basin management plan for 2018- 2021 to set out our approach for the cost recovery of water services based on the economic analysis conducted according to Annex III, the contribution of the different water users to cost recovery and how this will contribute to achieving the environmental objectives of the Directive.″

Coupled with some fine print in the revised Water Services Act 2017, particular Section 9, that allows for CER (energy regulator) to do some fine adjustments to figures on ‘threshold amounts’ of  domestic water, the Irish Public should be worried.  That’s a nice way of saying; whittling away at the water basic allowances.

What can we do?

I like the idea of people arming themselves with facts, questioning everything and not listening to what they are told by politicians and media alike, no matter who they are. I also like the idea of public empowerment, helping themselves, but unfortunately the issue of water charges has been given over to the political establishment where it is now subject to legal interpretations.

The public must demand that politicians and groups who made commitments against water charges, whether it is Right2Water or Fianna Fáil, put their money where their mouths are. They have to question the legality of this draft River Basin Management Plan. If their integrity can be respected they must not accept what seems to be happening to the principle of Ireland's  ‘Established Practice’.  They must stand up to EU interference and threats. 

Fianna Fáil has a particular responsibility in this issue since they are in a position of power because of it’s ″Confidence and Supply″ arrangement with the present Government. 

The public should contact all TDs, even attend their constituency clinics and demand that they do everything in their power to protect Ireland’s ‘Established Practice’,   They must question the published draft RBMP and at least make sure that the 9.4 section of the Water Framework Directive is invoked.