Opinion Piece by éirígí Tír Chonaill Spokesperson Micheál Cholm MacGiolla Easbuig carried in todays edition (July 25) of the Donegal on Sunday Newspaper
“I understood when I was just a child that without water, everything dies. I didn't understand until much later that no one “owns” water. It might rise on your property, but it just passes through. You can use it, and abuse it, but it is not yours to own. It is part of the global commons, not “property” but part of our life support system.” - Marq de Villiers
An admirable thought, and the fact that water is part of our life support system is without question. The human body can live for over a month without food but last no more than a week without water. So you would wonder at anyone who would seek to turn this most essential of needs for basic survival into just another commodity, to be bought and sold to line the pockets of big business.
But this is just what might happen if the government in Lenister House have their way. Domestic metering has been an idea which has floated around within the Dublin government for some time now and earlier this year, Green Party leader and Environment Minister for the Fianna Fail led coalition, John Gormley, said that €1 billion would have to be raised annually through water charges, which he intends to impose on 1.1 million households, to cover the cost of treating the water system. Do the math and it is evident that the water charge that would need to be imposed on each home to raise this €1 billion would be more than prohibitively expensive for most, especially in these harsh times of economic crisis created by the capitalist greed of big business around the globe.
Of course, John Gormley isn't going to come out with a “like it or lump it” demand that we pay this tax just so we can have the right to consume the basic element for human survival. No, the reasons behind the imposition of domestic metering and water charges will be dressed up with terms such as conservation and suggestions that there will be job creation from the installation of meters, all in a vain attempt to make he and his ilk in the government look like the good guys in all of this.
Taking his concerns for water conservation – which no one would deny is a fair enough concern – Mr. Gormley would do better to look at the current state of our water services and ask why up to 40% of our water is lost through leaking pipes before it even reaches the tap. Countless homes across Donegal will be able to testify to the lack of investment there has been in our water supply infrastructure after their experiences earlier this year, when services were cut off due to harsh winter weather causing a less than fit for purpose system to freeze and supply lines to burst. In parts of Donegal in 21st century western Europe we seen parents having to melt snow and boil it just to feed their children. Throughout each year many homes in Donegal are subject to stoppages in water supply, “boil water” notices and periods of unusable discoloured water flowing from our taps.
And before anyone argues that a water tax would generate the money needed to remedy any of these problems by supplying the funds to fix our less than fit for purpose water services, remember that John Gormley said that the €1 billion raised from water tax would go towards the €1.2 billion needed to only treat the water, not improve the system. In 2007 the Dublin government in their 'National Development Plan' committed €4.75 billion in spending towards the Water Services Sub-Program to ensure a better water service. This commitment seems to have now disappeared out of the pipeline in one of its many leaks.
Then of course there is the claim of possible job creation that Mr. Gormley has used to try to bolster his plans for imposing this water tax, saying that employment would come with the installation of the domestic water meters. Knowing the current state of unemployment in the Twenty-Six Counties, with well over 22,000 unemployed here in Donegal alone, and knowing that the press would possibly use job creation as a headline, suggesting such a thing to back his argument and gather public support was a reprehensible move to make on his part. He also suggests this possible jobs boost while his government ponders 17,000 public sector job cuts, which would lead you to wonder about the state of thinking that there exists within his department.
Maybe if the Dublin government took some of the many billions of euros of our money they used to bail out the banks and developers who were responsible for today's economic crisis, and invested it in upgrading our water supply, jobs would be created, water would be conserved and no one would have to face the possibility of paying a draconian tax just to receive the basic necessity of life.
But of course we all know the Dublin government too well at this stage to think they would do anything else. The commodification of our natural resources and the giving away of well over €540 billion (thats €540,000,000,000!) in oil and gas to private foreign companies when those resources could be nationalised and the resulting hundreds of billions of euro invested in hospitals, schools, infrastructure and jobs, only goes to show the contempt Lenister House has for the ordinary working class here in Donegal and indeed all of the Twenty-Six Counties.
Domestic metering and water tax is the first step on the road to the privatisation of our water services and we only have to look to England and Wales to see what an unmitigated disaster the commodification of water can be. Ultimately what we will have are those who have the very least in society, those who struggle to put food on the table for their families, paying for a service so the wealthiest in society can water their gardens.
The bottom line is that water meters and water tax is unnecessary, unfair and unwanted and such plans should be vigorously resisted by everyone, everywhere. Our water is the single most important element for our survival and that of future generations. Our water is not for sale!