The McCarthy Report, published last July, recommended the introduction of water charges for domestic users and, since its publication, the Dublin government has treated this neo-liberal program of savage cuts to public services as an article of faith. As predicted last December (Water Charges: The Battle Commences), the Dublin government is attempting to soften up public opinion by using water conservation and job creation in a cynical attempt to justify the introduction of what amounts to a double tax on already hard pressed working class households.
However, it seems the Green Party ‘commitment’ to recycling is not just restricted to refuse and waste. It appears party leader Gormley has engaged in a bit of recycling when announcing, to much media fanfare, a ‘new investment’ of €1.8 billion [£1.6 billion] in water infrastructure. It’s an old trick that he has obviously picked up from his Fianna Fáil colleagues in government.
Just three years ago, the Dublin government’s National Development Plan (2007-2013) committed spending of €4.75 billion [£4.15 billion] in the Water Services Sub-Program. The first point of this sub-program emphasised that it would be used to ensure “good quality drinking water is available to all consumers of public and group water supplies in compliance with national and EU drinking water standards, including any infrastructural improvements required to meet the 2013 parameter for the presence of lead in drinking waste”.
The Dublin government’s failure to invest in maintaining and upgrading the water supply infrastructure ensured that tens of thousands of households across the Twenty-Six Counties were forced to endure weeks without water, as the creaking infrastructure was unable to withstand the cold snap last January.
Households are not responsible for the chronic waste of water; rather the Twenty-Six County government’s refusal to invest in maintaining and installing water pipes has resulted in an unspecified amount of water being lost through leaking pipes. This fact came to light in the 2008 Local Government Management Services Board on Service Indicators in Local Authorities, which revealed that two-thirds of local authorities in the state lost 40 per cent of water through leaking pipes. It begs the question as to what other ‘commitments’ in the Development Plan have been quietly dropped.
John Gormley’s announcement of investment in water infrastructure is little more than window dressing, designed to provide cover for the introduction of a new water tax. In addition, Gormley argued that the installation of domestic water meters would create thousands of new jobs, a point some in the corporate media quickly latched on to. With almost 500,000 currently unemployed in the Twenty-Six Counties, this is a cynical attempt to buy public support for proposals that will burden households with an additional tax. Yet, this is the same government that is proposing to slash 17,000 jobs in the public sector and has pointedly refused to invest in a public works program, preferring instead to pump billions into propping up a failed banking system and rescuing the parasite class of property speculators and developers.
Given that the Water Services Act 2007 makes provision for water services to be ‘contracted out’, there is no doubt that private companies will be awarded the lucrative contract to install domestic water meters. This is not surprising given that the further opening of the public sector to private investment is the neo-liberal way of rescuing capitalism from perpetual crisis.
While there is a need to invest in water conservation measures, water meters are not the solution. They are simply a monumental waste of public money, which have been proven to add nothing to conservation. Indeed, Gormley’s colleagues in Fianna Fáil presided over a regime for over a decade, during which their developer friends were provided with massive tax incentives to build over 800,000 housing units, with absolutely no measures taken to install water conservation instruments such as dual flush toilets or rain water and grey water gathering devices. Their cynical conversion to water conservation should be treated with the contempt it deserves.
It should also be noted that, as has happened across Europe, the installation of water meters and the imposition of a water tax are simply the initial steps in the privatisation of the public water supply. It is clear that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party intend to provide a new market in which their private business wing can invest in the future.
The battle against the water tax has commenced. éirígí is committed to the campaign against the water tax and is part of the Anti-Water Tax campaign which was launched in Dublin last February.
Over the coming months we intend, along with working class communities and other left wing groups, to play a full and active part in defeating this double tax and ensuring that the domestic water supply remains in public hands.