Water Charges

Brief version:
1. We don’t support domestic Water charges outside of general taxation; we have successfully opposed this in the six counties;
2. We don’t support the kind of corporate empire-building that the Irish Water process represents; we have successfully opposed privatisation in the six counties;
3. We will not advocate universal non-payment because the negative consequences are not universally equally burdensome, amongst individuals and households; our duty is to represent the best interests of the public, and this includes informing them of this;
4. As part of the civil society Right2Water Campaign: we have, are currently, and will continue to stand with people who can’t pay, won’t pay, or need to pay because of household circumstances; this campaign creates common ground between all who oppose Water Charges, and it organised one of the largest public demonstrations in recent history. Sinn Féin is the largest political party organising with this campaign, and will be participating in state-wide protests on November 1.
5. Sinn Féin will stand by our promise to the electorate on Water Charges, representing this at local, state, national and international levels – as we have done with Property Tax.
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Some people have asked me about those “Irish Water” forms going out. Here’s what I think so far (an opinion – not infallible):

1. If you are not connected to a public system – water in or sewage out – then “Irish Water” has nothing to do with you. I, along with dozens of other councillors of all stripes, heard this confirmed by a speaker at a councillor training session recently. Private individual & group systems have nothing to do with “Irish Water”. Consequently, I fail to see any obligation for anyone who receives these forms from “Irish Water” in this category to return or acknowledge such letters. Unless you are kindly disposed to helping them compile a superfluous, detailed database of non-customers. I can’t imagine what use anyone would have for that, can you? (Why are you getting the letter so? I guess they just bought mailing lists – and have no idea who is actually on the public system.)
2. If you are connected to a public system – water in, or sewage out – your legal situation is different (sorry). That they don’t have a database yet, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have ways of finding out later (or sooner); it also doesn’t mean you are invulnerable to some kind of legal or financial sanction (consider the Property Registration, then Taxation schemes);
3. If you have concerns about their asking for your family’s PPS numbers, so do I. Right now, we are trying to get a very solid legal opinion on the total legality of this – I’m sorry I cannot give you a definitive answer right now. A key concept to understand is this, however: certain allowances are made for households with children, etc.; if you do not declare and identify them in a manner that “Irish Water” considers acceptible (PPS numbers), you may not get those allowances unless the entire system is changed. That is unlikely to happen without a considerable change in government. You must understand, that although it may be an ethically and philosophically valid position to not declare your PPS numbers, the current legal situation may still favour “Irish Water” – and this can result in real costs to you in terms of the loss of allowances. You must weigh up what you are willing to bear.
A suggestion to those for which such costs would be overly burdesome (or just anyone who has concerns) – write a polite, formal letter to the Director for Energy Retail and Water, at the Commission for Energy Regulation, The Exchange, Belgard Square North, Tallaght, Dublin 24, and ask for written clarification and confirmation of the following:
A. What, specifically, will the PPS Numbers be used for in the Irish Water query?
B. Can it be confirmed that this, specific, purpose will be the only use for these numbers after you have given them?
4. For people whose meters e.g. are on private rather than public property for some reason, or meters that may for some other reason access to “Irish Water” may be (legally) restricted: understand that they may still charge you “assessed” rates. This may (almost certainly “will”) be more than you would otherwise pay.
5. For those who understand all the above, but still wish to pursue a policy of civil disobedience: understand that currently, the law as made by our present government seems to be against you – that means that agents of the State cannot be expected to take your side, or to treat you with the solidarity you might morally expect; understand that there may not only be financial costs resulting from assessment/loss of allowances, but also real penalties ranging from fines to judicial sanctions.
6. Please understand, that for all these reasons we urge you to make a fully-informed decision, but we cannot simply urge people to refuse to register or pay, or to disrupt metering, regardless of their situation – precisely because the effect on individual household circumstances is so different, and could impact so negatively. Sinn Féin, and I, will continue to advocate for the citizen – as opposed to the institution and the State – in these particular circumstances (including those of ethically and intellectually coherent, disciplined protest).

The State and its institutions must first serve the Citizen – not the other way around. The process of plutonomic privatisation – such as with the creation of “Irish Water” – doesn’t primarily serve the Citizen.


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What bills should struggling families not pay to afford water charges?
Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane raises the issue of water charges in the Seanad

Water charges: Families are not in a position to meet this bill
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald hits out at the Government’s water charges

Sinn Féin Ard Fhéis 2013. Water Charges – Conor Murphy MP
12 April, 2013

Sinn Féin is opposed, North and South, to the introduction of water charges, the privatisation of water and sewage provision and any double taxation being introduced, North or South, as a method of financing these vital public services.

In the North, in 2007, we inherited the British New Labour Direct Rule creation, Northern Ireland Water, and their plans to double charge households for water and sewage and ultimately to privatise this service.

On my proposal, as Minister for Regional Development, the Executive in Stormont reversed the introduction of household water charges, halted proposals for universal metering and ruled out the privatisation of these services now or in the future.

And they did so on the basis that households in the North are already hard pressed due to the difficult economic circumstances and should not be forced to endure an additional financial burden.

Since 2007 we invested over a billion pounds in water and sewage services, overhauling an unfit sewage system, rolling out a water mains upgrade programme across the North and achieving the highest ever standards of drinking water, all through central government funding. The Executive have recently re-committed to continuing this policy.

Sinn Fein recognise that there are significant challenges across the island in achieving a truly sustainable water and sewage service that is affordable, meets our environmental obligations and delivers a reliable high quality service. However we have proved in government that this can be done without driving struggling households into further poverty.

The legislation introduced by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition this year mirrors that brought forward by the British government for the North in 2007.

The proposal to create a company, Irish Water, as a subsidiary of Bord Gais Éireann which the government intend to sell off gives a clear sense of the privatisation route that is being followed here

In Britain the Tories took utilities that were paid for by the public, invested huge sums of public money to upgrade them, sold them off to their friends and then charged the public to continue to use them. Is this what Fine Gael and Labour intend for the people of this state.

We were told in the North that domestic metering was necessary to conserve scarce water supplies but our research showed that households in Dublin used less water than similar households in London who were paying for their metered water supply.

If you want to conserve water, fix the leaks.

40% of the water supply that is gathered and treated is disappearing into the ground through faulty mains. Invest in that rather than borrowing 300 million Euros to install water meters in people’s homes.

Is this government’s priority extracting more money from families at the behest of the Troika or is it provision of quality services to citizens who already pay for that.

Public services should be paid for through progressive taxation and those services, having been paid for by the people, must be retained in the ownership of the people.

It is not enough for the Labour Party simply to defer their proposals to the other side of next year’s local government elections in order to avoid the wrath of the people. Fine Gael and Labour intend for people in this state to pay three times over for a basic public service.

That is fundamentally unfair on struggling families and Sinn Fein, as we did North of the border, will continue to fight against the imposition of unjust taxation.

Mary Lou McDonald: Stop Government from tapping us for so much cash
24/April 2014, Irish Mirror

Water charges – conceived by Fianna Fail, delivered by Fine Gael and Labour.

So this week we found out Fine Gael and Labour are planning to allow Irish Water to impose a standing charge on domestic users and that the average yearly levy or water will be roughly €250 to €300.

The introduction of a standing charge by Irish Water would essentially mean domestic water users are being hit four times.

They will be paying a usage charge and a standing charge on top of the local property tax and their tax to the central exchequer.

Many people will remember the Labour Party’s famous advert from the 2011 General Election in which they promised to protect people from the worst of Fine Gael’s right-wing policies.

The advert warned a one-party Fine Gael Government would hike car tax, increase VAT, cut child benefit, increase DIRT tax by 3%, increase levies on wine by €1 and water charges would be €238 per year.

It was as if to say that people should vote Labour to prevent Fine Gael from introducing these policies.

And here we are three years later with each and every one of those policies introduced or about to be introduced.

Not only that but we now know the annual charge for water will be more than what Labour claimed Fine Gael would introduce if they had their own way.

So the question we should really be asking ourselves is what exactly is the point of Labour in Government?

But water charges were not the Labour Party’s idea.

The idea was conceived by Fianna Fail when it was in government in its National Recovery Plan 2011 to 2014.

So, for all its hard talk and criticism of Fianna Fail while in opposition, the Labour Party is now implementing its policies in government.

Of course we weren’t supposed to know what the annual charge would be until after the elections.

We only know because of a leak. The plan was to keep it a secret to avoid the inevitable backlash from the public at the local and European elections in just under five weeks.

Let me deal with an accusation that has been thrown at Sinn Fein with regard to water charges, one that was thrown at me again this weekend by Labour’s Joe Costello on the Claire Byrne show – that we are implementing water charges in the North.

Here are the facts. Sinn Fein is against water charges North and South. The Tory Government in Westminster tried to introduce water charges in the North. Sinn Fein blocked them.

Yes, there are rates in the North but they pay for the services of residents such as bin collections, school books, driving lessons, upkeep of local parks, roads, policing and health services and much more.

There is no comparison with the water charges and property taxes here which are both revenue-raising measures for the Government.

We welcome the new-found interest from the Government parties in Northern politics but it is a pity they only look north when looking to score political points off Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein is proud of its performance in government in the North and we are proud of our record in Opposition in the South.

We are committed to fighting water charges as we believe that fresh, free-flowing water is a basic human right.

We have already seen how €80million of taxpayers’ money was spent on consultancy services for Irish Water and that 29 staff at the company are being paid over €100,000 per year.

The Government has also pumped €490million from the Local Property Tax into the establishment of Irish Water. This is despite the Government’s claim that Irish Water would save money.

And all of this is being done to set up an unnecessary corporate structure to take control away from democratically-elected local authorities.

This waste of taxpayers’ money has to stop…

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