After Irish Water

Posted: March 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

The general election has thrown up many uncertainties. One thing not in doubt however is that a majority of people voted to scrap water charges and abolish Irish Water.

A majority of TDs in the 31st Dáil are committed to ending water charges and replacing Irish Water. No Government, including the current caretaker administration, has a mandate to continue with these failed policies.

This is why Sinn Féin wanted a debate on water to be included in next week’s Dáil business and why we tabled a motion to give effect to what is the clear democratic will of the electorate.

Sinn Féin has repeatedly said that we will keep our election promises. In our manifesto we made a number of clear commitments on water.

We said we would hold a referendum to enshrine the public ownership of our water services in the Constitution

We said we would abolish domestic water charges and dismantle Irish Water.

We said we would stop the metering project, redirect the remaining monies to direct investment in infrastructure and invest an additional €900m in upgrading our water and sewage infrastructure.

We said we would roll out a major water conservation programme in conjunction with local authorities.

We said we would establish an independent Commission on Water Services to examine the most appropriate public ownership model to replace Irish Water which would report back to Government within nine months.

These manifesto commitments were consistent with our endorsement of the Right2Change policy principles on water services

These principles asserted that water is a human right and should be made available to all, free at the point of use and on the basis of need.

Signatories to these principles agreed that Irish Water PLC and domestic water charges should be abolished within 100 days of a progressive Government being formed.

We also agreed that Irish Water PLC should be replaced with a new water and sanitation board responsible for water and sanitation supply in the public interest.

Right2Change also provided an agreed wording for the constitutional amendment that would be proposed in a referendum to protect water as a public good.

Since the election there has been a lot of debate on the future of water charges and Irish Water.

Those who want to maintain Fine Gael and Labour’s discredited water regime have made outlandish claims of the possible cost of implementing the policy outlined by Sinn Féin and Right2Change.

There has also been a focus on what happens to Irish Water staff and the detail of what exactly will replace Irish Water.

In our view the best way to deal with both of these issues is to establish an Independent Commission to design the best possible model for the public delivery of water and sanitation services. Such a Commission would look at international best practice and learn from the failures of our recent experience.

Some commentators have wrongly suggested that this would be a Commission on the future of Irish Water. This is not the case.

It would be established after the formal abolition of the current company and its terms of reference would be to design the best possible model of public delivery of water services.

It would also seek to reverse the creeping privatisation of our existing water and sanitisation services.

Clearly talk of abolishing Irish Water has created fear and uncertainty for those people working in the company. Whatever our disagreements with Government policy we must not forget that these workers have families to feed and bills to pay.

Sinn Féin’s view is that with an additional €900m of investment in water services there would be a need for more workers not less. We do not want to see anyone losing their job. However if the issue of redundancies were to arise they must be voluntary and negotiated with trade union representatives fully respecting the rights and entitlements of the workers involved

The Right2Water movement have proved to be one of the most powerful and effective social movements in recent history. It mobilised hundreds of thousands of people and forced some, who originally supported water charges, to change their position.

Those who continue to defend the failed water policy status quo are on the defensive. We need to keep the pressure up on the streets and in the Dáil. We need to stay focused and united and not be distracted by those who seek to sow artificial divisions between us.

In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about respecting the will of the people. On the issue of water the people have spoken loud and clear. They have said scrap the charges, abolish Irish Water and deliver water and sanitation services in the public interest.

 

This article was first published by An Phoblacht on 15.3.16

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