Has Fianna Fáil crossed the Rubicon on Water Charges? Well maybe.

Buncrana Together has this week received a reply from Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Agriculture, Food & Marine to questions we asked him about his party's response to our concerns articulated very clearly by Marian Harkin, MEP,  (see Irish Water Charges, who decides Brussels or Dublin?). 

These concerns relate to Ireland's implementation of it's next phase of the River Basin Management Plan, 2015-2021.  Every EU country is committed to producing 3 River Basin Management Plans as part of the EU Water Framework Directive 2000.  Each phase outlines in 7 year cycles it's plans for water infrastructure and it's funding.  After the 3rd and final plan it is hoped that each country will reach the goals as set out in the Water Framework Directive.  

By the way Ireland's first plan 2007-2014 included our hard won 9.4 Exemption and domestic water charges was funded through general taxation and water infrastructure was the responsibility of local authorities and government public bodies.

Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil TD speaking at an Anti Water Charge demonstration in Carndonagh, Co Donegal early last year.

Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil TD speaking at an Anti Water Charge demonstration in Carndonagh, Co Donegal early last year.

(At the outset we must point out that we have tried to highlight the importance and immediacy of this issue, by email, publicising and through social media.  However, Mr McConalogue has been the only one, so far, to respond.  This includes the Anti Water Charges movement in general, a sad and unbelievable outcome).

Mr McConalogue response was

"Fianna Fáil believes that established practise in Ireland refers to the situation that prevailed when the Water Framework Directive was established.  This means paying for  water via general taxation.  Our legal advice upholds the view that it is legally possible for Ireland to end water charges.

The next River Basin Management Plan has not been submitted pending the review of the Expert Water Commission. In our submission to that commission Fianna Fáil outlined its opposition to domestic water charges and upon a final decision by the Oireachtas on the matter we expect the River Basin Management plan will reflect that view. "


Mr McConalogue refers to 'Expert Water Commission', (see our article Establishment of an Expert Commission on Domestic Public Water Services).  The findings of this Commission are due out later this month and will go before the Oireachtas in February and a vote on the final recommendations will be held by the end of March next year.

Mr McConalogue's response,  is indeed grounds for optimism and together with their decision last week to back a recent Water Referendum Bill  it would seem to confirm that the Party have finally committed to a decision on Irish Water Ltd and the Water Charges issue.  

Many people in Ireland, including ourselves have been skeptical about Fianna Fáil's promises, no doubt due to their involvement and handling of the collapse of the Irish economy and the bank bailout in 2008.  Buncrana Together has repeatedly questioned Fianna Fáil's commitment to their Party's clear policies and their TD's promises with regards to abolishing Irish Water and Water Charges (see our article Fianna Fáil's Four Core Principles).  

Their stance last June when they stood up to threats from the EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella over the Water Framework Directive, was a further indication of this commitment .  An incident which Fine Gael Minister Simon Coveney described as the "political war over water charges in Ireland".

However, Fianna Fáil's policies were called into question at the beginning of this month when John McGuinness, a high ranking Fianna Fáil TD said "many members of the party did not know what the party's policy on water charges was.  We are trying to be on both sides of the argument." Irish Times, Nov 1.

To us,  who have been skeptical, this was a timely intervention, bearing in mind the results of the 'Independent' Water Commission are due out this month.  We can only assume by this stage that Fianna Fáil have met, discussed and finalised their position on Water Charges.   A conclusion which is borne out by Mr McConalogue's response and the party's stance on the Water Referendum Bill. 

WQ 3/03 European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003

This is a summary letter to all local authorities in Ireland.  It is a good explanation on how Ireland was going to structure it water infrastructure and achieve the goals as set down in the European Water Framework Directive 2000.  Fianna Fáil was the main party in Government from the negotiations of the WFD from 1998-2000 and it's transposition into Irish law in 2003.  Page 5 clearly outlines Ireland's negotiated 'Established Practice' principle and the Article 9.4 which allows us an exemption from domestic water charges.

Also of interest in page 5, and possibly for another article, is the mention of 'Reserved Function'.  To our knowledge this explains that local authorities have powers under the act to set up and run River Basin District and to undertake River Basin Management Plans.  If this is the case then all local authorities including all local county councillors should have been in a position to know precisely what was going on.

Page 5 or WQ 3/03

Page 5 or WQ 3/03

Page 5 or WQ 3/03

Page 5 or WQ 3/03

Martin Cullen, ex Fianna Fáil Minister

Martin Cullen, ex Fianna Fáil Minister

The full pdf letter dated 23rd December 2003 was circulated by the Water Quality Section of the Department of the Environment to all local authorities in Ireland and to the Director of Environmental Service.  It explains the Water Framework Directive 2000-60-EC and it's transposition into Irish law as the European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003 (S.I No. 722), signed by the Minister   for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Martin Cullen, Fianna Fáil on 22nd December, 2003.




Water Framework Directive, River Basin Management Plan, 9.4 Exemption, Fianna Fáil, Right2Water Trade Unions. A case of Ryan's Daughter

We run the risk of being boring but feel it is important to focus attention and zone in on some highly significant events in the long saga of the Irish 'Water Charges' controversy.   The events we will highlight here and in future articles are; 1) The Water Framework Directive-2000/60/EC', 2)  Ireland's River Basin Management Plan, 3)  Article 9.4, the Irish Exemption, 4) The Water Services Act 2013 and 5) EU/IMFBank Bailout of 2010.   

Because of the relevance of these events and how the Government and EU bureaucrats interpret and use them, one would think that the anti water charges' campaign leaders would delve into these cornerstones of Irish and EU Water Policies.  For whatever reason they are not.  The Government and pro 'Water Charges' lobby are being allowed set the agenda, pick and choose selective interpretations,  misrepresent events and rely on secrecy.

They should not be let them off the hook easily.  Instead their versions of facts must be countered, historical inaccuracies highlighted and political intrigues and revisionism exposed.  Like the sleeked, slimy, two faced, greedy shopkeeper and publican, Tom Ryan, in Ryan's Daughter, we are being duped into thinking that politicians and individuals are on our side when in fact these very same erstwhile supporters are pursuing their own agenda whether it be party opportunism or personal aggrandisement.     

Despite what any Minister, EU bureaucrat or IMF/EU Troika official say the fact remains that the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC and Article 9.4 of the directive is in force today and our water policy is being driven by the first cycle of the River Basin Management Plan, the main stipulation in the Water Framework Directive.  No amount of political juggling or threats can change this.  How can anyone have plans and agreements if they do not stick to them?

Not only should the anti water charge movement to try to find out the truth about the events, it should also hold to account all those who have made the water issue a political football for the past forty years.   This dogged pursuit by the political elite, the EU bureaucrats and international financiers has been relentless.  It is hard to accept the hypocrisy of sidestepping the democratic wish of the Irish people that our water resource should belong to the people of Ireland and funded through general taxation.  What is just as hard to accept is the belief that politicians seem to have that their actions, misrepresentations, rhetoric and even lies are acceptable, their reason being that it's the nature of politics.   

Buncrana Together have written quite a bit already on the above events (search our archives for Water Framework Directive or 9.4 exemption), however, we feel there is much more to come out and that the anti water chargescampaign has lost focus or worse led down the garden path. We are being fooled into thinking that 'Water Charges is as good as abolished'.  Indeed the charges have been suspended but only until Minister Coveney's hand picked 'Independent Commission on Domestic Water Charges' reports back sometime after November this year, after which a vote will be taken on the issue in the Dáil. Members of Fianna Fáil are the biggest culprits in spreading this line.  However, what they do not tell about are events that are happening behind the scenes, events like the second cycle of the River Basin Management Plan.   We say never mind what you might do next year, what are you doing now?  We have asked Fianna Fáil what is their position on the Water Framework Directive, the River Basin Management Plan and the 9.4 Exemption.  To date we have had no reply.  

It is one thing for politicians and EU bureaucrats to manipulate facts, to act in secret, ignore citizens.  We have, somehow, got used to this political chicanery.  However it is another thing altogether when those on the side of the anti water charges' campaign also ignore seemingly vital events.   The Right2Water Trade Union assumed leaders have also ignored requests for explanations and to concentrate on the Water Framework Directive, the River Basin Management Plan and the 9.4 Exemption.    In doing so they are allowing the pro water charges' camp, (and maybe not pro camps), to dictate the agenda and use selective propaganda without being questioned.  It is a case of 'Nero fiddled while Rome burned'.

River Basin Management Districts

Would it surprise you know that right at this moment the Government the Irish River Basin Management Districts are actively engaged in drafting the second stage of the River Basin Management Plan?   

What is so significant about this second cycle River Basin Management Plan, is that it will be Ireland's de facto Water Policy into the future.  If it is allowed to continue,  unopposed, it will include 'Pricing Policy', including domestic water charges,  'Metering' and the entity and structure of Irish Water Ltd will be firmly entrenched.  It will quietly ignore the 9.4 Exemption and our long established practice of Water Policy will end.   The new River Basin Management Plan will become part of EU Water Policy, signed sealed and delivered.  

No matter what some may lead you to believe now, when the time comesand all the plans are put in placethe same political parties and individualwho told us to have faith, will wash their hands of it and say 'the decision has already been made'.

By  Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - The beach between Slea Head and Dunmore Head on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, location where scenes for Ryan's Daughter were filmed.

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - The beach between Slea Head and Dunmore Head on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, location where scenes for Ryan's Daughter were filmed.