Final FOI Appeal Turned Down by Commissioner and Sinn Féin Economical with the Truth about the Oireachtas Water Committee.

by James Quigley

Last month a senior officer from the Office of the Information Commissioner turned down my third and final appeal against the decision to refuse access to all records, not in the public domain, of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. In all there were some thirty secret sessions of the water Committee held between January to April 2017.  It now looks like we will never know what went on behind those closed doors.

The original request was interested in the management of the committee itself, how decisions were finalised and who voted for what. In particular the request highlighted the session of February 15th .  In that session the Water Framework Directive and it’s all important 9.4 paragraph that dealt with Ireland’s Water Charges Exemption was discussed at length.  For some inexplicable reason, that was the last we heard about the 9.4 Exemption and at the conclusion of the Committee's business in April 2017 there was not a mention of it in any final report.

The Constitution, transparency and accountability
It seems openness, transparency and accountability of Dáil Éireann and it's Committees are hidden in confidentiality and protected by Article 15.10 of the Constitution. The following is a section of the  Commissioner’s decision.  It can be be read in full HERE:

Section from Commissioners decision.

Section from Commissioners decision.

That’s the bureaucrats but what about those on our side?

I can understand establishment politicians and officials hiding behind bureaucratic excuses.  After all we  let them do it and keep voting them into office.  But you might think that you would get answers from those that were supposedly representing  the anti Water Charges side.  Sadly in my experience this has not been the case. The R2W leadership and their representatives on that establishment Oireachtas Committee including Sinn Féin, Solidarity, PBP and Independents have not addressed any of the concerns from dejected anti Water Charges campaigners.

Some basic questions that have not been answered are: 1) why there was no mention of the 9.4 Exemption in the report which they applauded on April 6, 2017?   2) why did they accept  Irish Water Ltd?  3) why did  they accept the principle of charging for excessive and the use of metering?

After repeated inquiries Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin TD, eventually posted this answer on Facebook:

Sinn Féin and the other Right2Water TDs argued very strongly in the Water Committee for the retention of the exemption contained in the Water Services Directive. Sinn Féin commissioned a Senior Council legal opinion on the issue, tabled the opinion at the Committee and challenged the European Commission on the issue when they came to the committee. Unfortunately as the final report to the committee did not commit to the full abolition of water charges Sinn Féin and the other Right2Water TDs opposed the final report. The Right2Water movement made a formal submission to the Governments River Basin Management Plan consultation which explicitly called on the Government to invoke 9.4 in their revised plan. That is now a matter for the Government which has yet to publish their final plan to be submitted to the European Commission.″

This is such a typical stock political answer.  It  contains enough truths to make it seem plausible but in substance the answer does not address the the most important question. I have watched the full February debate, well what was available to the public that is, and can safely say that the Senior Counsels, representing both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil by the way, indeed made very convincing arguments for the retention of the 9.4 Exemption.  So much so that one would have thought the 9.4 argument should have been included in any final report.  It was not and it was never even mentioned after February 15th.

I am convinced that the Right2Water representatives did not put up much of an argument themselves and at the end of the day they must not have believed the Senior Counsels themselves because they did not insist that the 9.4 be part of any final report.

See full video: Right2Water TD's at Leinster House claim 'Victory' Apr 5th 2017
                       Clouds of suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption in Oireachtas Water Committee report   

Nasty News for Water Warriors

Original article by Dublin Eileen posted on December 2017


A Christmas holiday custom in Ireland is to break nasty political news just before the big day when everyone is too busy to take much notice. Today, news broke of how rejigged legislation will bring in disputed water charges, (a prerequisite of the EU’s ‘bail out’ agreement), through the back door. Here is the article: Almost 100,000 households face being hit with a new water charge from 2019. This begs the question as to why has no one has kicked up an enormous fuss about the potential loss of an important legal EU exemption? A legal protection that is one of the most useful weapons that the water movement has against the pillaging of the water resources of Ireland. This provision allows the Irish public to pay for domestic water services via general taxation as opposed to direct charges.

Exemption 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive, was negotiated and renewed by successive Irish governments as part of the River Basin Management Plan. It is due to lapse in two months time and there is a blanket silence over the issue. Neither media, politicians nor activists from any side of the spectrum are discussing it. Without it, Ireland will be liable for hefty fines from the EU for not following the commission’s preferred option of direct payments by individual families to both privatised and publicly owned water companies.

The Irish public have made their position clear. They prefer paying for the service via general taxation. Above all they fear and reject privatisation of the resource, feeling that direct charges leave the water resource utterly vulnerable to that fate. They know that privatisation will lead to skyrocketing prices, poor quality control and water poverty. Indeed these are issues that have prompted many European local authorities, at substantial cost, to resume management and ownership of their own water services.

Allowing the exemption to lapse certainly suits the neoliberal Fine Gael and Fianna Fail ruling parties, (currently in a ‘confidence and supply’ minority governent arrangement), whose ideological position is one of privatisation of public services. However for politicians from the other side of the house to allow this happen is like handing your biggest cannon to your foe and affording them the means to utterly defeat you. Media commentators will use the resulting EU fines to support the ruling party’s line and crush the grass roots led Anti Water Charges Movement.

What options do members of the public who wish to continue paying for their water services via general taxation have?  Perhaps the best one is to ask vulnerable Fianna Fail parliamentarians what they are doing to safeguard the exemption?  It’s retention is the only legal safeguard our water resource has.

The 9.4 Clause of the EU Water Framework Directive

The following is an extract from 'The Future of Water Charges' a legal opinion obtained by the Joint Committee on the future Funding of Domestic Water in Ireland February 2017.

Paragraph 18. { “If the derogation (exemption) is to continue to be availed of, Ireland must explicitly include the derogation in its next River Basin Management Plan and state the reasons for availing of the exemption.” }

…..Signed : Matthias Kelly, QC Essex Chambers London WC2A 1DD And Merchants Quay Chambers, 25-26 Merchants Quay Dublin 8.

Mr. Kelly’s position is supported by the 9 Irish MEPs in this letter to the Irish Times.

The European Commission has also confirmed in emails to Lynn Boylan and Marian Harkin that

"if Ireland would like to avail of Article 9.4 (the derogation) then it should submit that request in its second River Basin Management Plan with justification. This second river basin management plan is now not due to be submitted until 2017, with plenty of time for Ireland to establish that derogation."

It is beyond doubt then that if the Irish Government so wishes, it can still use the derogation and justify its use in its River Basin Management Plan, as has been done and is still being done by so many other European regions and countries. ‘

(An extension of two months has been currently granted to the Irish Government leaving the renewal due in Feb 2018).


Full article at

The day of the big Right2Water Trade Union deceit

by James Quigley

Steve Fitzpatrick, Communication Workers Union, left and Dave Gibney, Mandate, right, during the Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water

Steve Fitzpatrick, Communication Workers Union, left and Dave Gibney, Mandate, right, during the Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water

February 21, 2017, must go down in Irish history as the day the anti water movement was utterly shafted by  Right2Water Trade Unions. On that day Steve Fitzpatrick (Communications Workers Union) along with Dave Gibney (Mandate) appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Funding of Domestic and accepted the principle of water charges for excessive use.

Both Fitzpatrick and Gibney were introduced by the Committee chairman as representing Right2Water.

The official record shows that Barry Cowen (Fianna Fáil) asked the witnesses directly ″if this committee was in a position to agree a process by which people who use excessive amounts of water were charged, is Right2Water happy with that.″

Mr Fitzpatrick replied ″yes″.

After this bombshell some in R2W later argued that Mr Fitzpatrick’s was actually talking about swimming pools and industrial water use, however, the record clearly shows that his answer was indeed in relation to domestic water use. 

The more I watch the video and read the Oireachtas transcript, the more I am convinced that the presentation was planned. The two union officials seemed to know what was coming.  The furtive glances, the nods and demeanour, the nervous tension all lead one to believe that it was a well choreographed drama.  Although the charade seems to have done enough to fool a lot of people, however, the fact remains that the official Dáil records show that Right2Water accepted the principle of water charges.

The two union officials unilaterally went against a fundamental demand of Ireland's anti water movement, i.e. no water charges.  This action, which can only be seen as deliberate led to the outcome of the final Oireachtas Report.  Were these two seasoned trade unionists, well versed in the art of collective bargaining, duped by Fianna Fáil?  That's hard to believe.  Three times they were asked and three time they answered 'yes'. 

It is difficult to see what purpose the two trade union officials had in attending the Committee session other than to agree with water charges and copper-fastening the Trade Union’s control of the anti water movement.  It was emphasised several times by the chairman and by Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen that Mr Fitzpatrick and Gibney spoke on behalf of the Right2Water movement. 

The question of how come two union officials came to represent Ireland’s Right2Water is startling.  In the first place the fact that they attended the committee session made it official that they were speaking on behalf of the movement.  Secondly it set in stone their agreement to an excessive use charge.  After that there was no going back.

It was all the more remarkable since it was the first time Steve Fitzpatrick played such a key public role in the movement.  It’s as if he was brought in to do a job, a job he fulfilled to the letter.

Video link to full session