Water protests: From a torrent to a tsunami - the anger that will not subside

It may yet prove to be a watershed moment for the Government.

United in anger, more than 150,000 people protested across the country against water charges.

It was the second major day of action after tens of thousands marched through Dublin on October 11, while organisers promised a “major rally” would take place outside the Dáil on December 10 — International Human Rights Day.

In a statement, the Right2Water campaign said: “Despite torrential rain, our expectations have been massively exceeded, with well over 150,000 people coming out in every neighbourhood, town and village to send a clear message to the Government: water is a human right and we demand the abolition of domestic water charges.

“Today showed the strength of public opposition to water charges in communities up and down the country.

“The time has come for the Government to accept the will of the people, abolish domestic water charges and return to the drawing board.

“Until they do, the Right2Water campaign will keep up the pressure.”

The trade unions behind Right2Water — Unite, Mandate, the Civil and Public Service Union, the Communication Workers’ Union and the Operative Plasterers & Allied Trades Society of Ireland — organised 27 demonstrations in Dublin alone.

In the region of 10,000 protesters gathered in Cork City centre. The march got under way from Grand Parade shortly after 2pm. Among the participants was Diarmuid O’Flynn of the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ campaign who criticised the Government for being economical with the truth about Irish Water. “Some of the arguments I have heard on why they are proposing this Irish Water are spurious. The first one they are talking about is conserving water. If your system is leaking 42% of the entire production, the first thing you do if you want to conserve the water is fix the system.

Cork

“Then we are told what about the people washing their cars day in and day out? Or leaving their tap dripping day in and day out? First of all, I don’t know anybody who does that. But in the second case, you do not to legislate to penalise everybody for the sins of a few.”

Bandon

Meanwhile, up to 2,000 people braved inclement weather conditions yesterday afternoon for anti-water charges demonstration in Fermoy, Co Cork, whilst 400 protesters took to the streets in Bandon.

Protesters marched to the offices of local Fine Gael TD Jim Daly to hand in a petition. Clonakilty moved their protest indoors because of the heavy rain.

Clonakilty

Upwards of 4,000 people in Kerry took part in the protests.

Led by a lone piper, an estimated 2,500 people paraded through the streets of Tralee, while at least 1,000 turned out in Listowel.

Tralee Right to Water chairman Phil Horgan called on the Government members to cut their wages rather than “sucking’’ more money out of people’s pockets.

Brian McCarthy, of Right to Water, Killarney, said the message being sent out by people around the country to the Government should not fall on deaf ears.

“People have had enough of taxation. The country has been mismanaged for years and the infrastructure has become outdated. Water is a basic human right and it’s time to dismantle the fiasco that is Irish Water,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, the leader of one of the country’s biggest unions has backed calls for a referendum on the ownership of public water.

Jack O'Connor, SIPTU

In the wake of mass nationwide protests over charges for the new utility, Siptu general president Jack O’Connor called on the Government to offer an amendment to the Constitution to prevent the privatisation of supplies.

Siptu had declined to back Saturday’s Right2Water demonstrations which brought at least 150,000 people on to the streets at about 100 marches around the country.

But in the wake of the mass opposition, the union chief has backed the calls made by Sinn Féin and the Greens last week predicting the privatisation of supplies without an amendment.

Mr O’Connor said private funds would have to be sought by the Government if there was a mass movement against paying for water.

“The use of private money would soon emerge as the solution to such a funding crisis, and the creeping privatisation of the service would then ensue. A constitutional amendment could preclude such a tragedy,” he said.

Siptu declined to back the anti-water charge protests but have been promoting their own policy of a mechanism to fully offset the cost of every household’s “normal need for water”.

Mr O’Connor added: “It’s not rocket science.

“A refundable tax credit is the way to do it. Fiddling around with the issue won’t cut the mustard. It will simply prolong the crisis.

“In the end, and possibly very quickly, Irish Water won’t be able to collect its revenues, thus rendering it insolvent and we will sleepwalk into the privatisation of public water supply.”

Taoiseach’s 4% tax hike warning to protesters

By Juno McEnroe, Political Reporter 

Letterkenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has warned that tax reforms benefiting low and middle-income earners introduced in the recent budget would be wiped away if water charges were dropped.

His comments come as the political storm over Irish Water and the levy is set to continue for a number of weeks until the Coalition decides how to ease payments for households.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald became the latest politician to declare that she would not pay her water charge bills.

Up to 150,000 protesters took to the streets in cities and towns over the weekend during anti-water charge marches. A Millward Brown opinion poll also found that support for Fine Gael had slipped down three percentage points to 22% and down two percentage points to 7% for Labour.

However, support for Sinn Féin had risen by four percentage points to 26%, giving it the biggest support.

Mr Kenny said over the weekend at the Fine Gael presidential dinner in Dublin that there was a great deal of misinformation and that people were under the assumption that they were paying money to a private company — which was not the case — and would never be the case.

He said there would be “certainty and clarity in the next couple of weeks about how much they pay, how they pay that and what they get in return”.

He warned that if water charges were dropped, a 4% rise in the top rate of income tax would be needed to make up the financial gap.

Speaking about voters’ choices at the next general election, he added: “They can re-elect a government that pulled our country out of the economic swamp or can hand it back to those who wrecked it, or [give it] to those who have no stability or consistency in how they pay for any of these services.”

Leader of Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin lashed the Taoiseach over his 4% tax claim, warning it was “truly bizarre and utterly bogus”.

“The Taoiseach is deliberately attempting to frighten people with misleading data. He is clearly panicked following yesterday’s marches and is seeking to deliberately confuse the debate,” said Mr Martin.

He pointed to Revenue documents from last month which said a 1% rise in the top rate would bring in €233m. He said, by implication, a 4% rise would yield €932m.

Mr Martin pointed to other figures, including from former environment minister Phil Hogan who said domestic bills would bring in €300m, but that figure would be reduced to €150m with concessions.

He said €533m had been paid from local government funds to Irish Water and was in the budget for 2015, and another €230m from commercial revenue would be used to off-set an equal amount of general spending.

Mr Martin added: “The Taoiseach should withdraw this bogus threat and people’s concerns have to be addressed.”

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes told RTÉ’s the Week in Politics that a favourable way to ease concerns among households would be to continue with an assessed charge for homes, possibly for a number of years. This would allow for more time for meters to be installed. Only a third of homes currently have meters installed.

The Cabinet will further discuss options to ease charges for households this week.

Boil water notice lifted after 4 years

By Brian McDonald

A four-year drought for a West of Ireland community is about to end.

For the first time since 2010, people living in the Castlerea area of Co Roscommon will be able to add tap water to their Christmas tipple without the need to boil it.

A boil notice has been in place on the Castlerea Rural Water Supply Scheme for the last four years, while a similar ban on drinking tap water has been in place on the urban water supply scheme for the past year.

The emergency measures were introduced because of concerns over the presence of the parasite cryptosporidium in the public supply.

Roscommon County Council has continued to advise householders and businesses that water must be boiled for drinking, for drinks made with water, the preparation of salads and ice and the brushing of teeth.

Parents have been repeatedly warned, while bathing children, to ensure youngsters do not swallow the water.

Work to temporarily resolve the problem wasn’t expected to be completed until next May, but a fast-tracked plan for a temporary treatment plant for the rural scheme will swing into action this week and it will then be amalgamated with the urban scheme.

Irish Water confirmed that an interim water treatment plant for the rural scheme would be operational in November.

Fianna Fáil councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice said people in Castlerea would be able to drink water from their taps without boiling it well in advance of Christmas. “Work at the moment is ongoing in amalgamating the urban and the rural schemes and that work should be completed in the coming weeks,” he said.

“Now work will also start in the next week on a new treatment plant on the rural supply and that should ensure the rural supply will be fit for drinking in a few weeks time.

“But also, the urban supply will be amalgamated with the rural supply so both supplies should be fit for drinking before Christmas,” said Mr Fitzmaurice.

Questions on manager appointment unanswered

By Joe Leogue

Irish Water has refused to answer questions arising from its search for a data protection manager, or explain why the position was re-advertised this week, having already been advertised last June.

While the utility this week placed an advertisement for an information security and data protection manager, the Irish Examiner has learned the position was previously advertised last June.

Irish Water was asked the following questions:

- What happened when the position was originally advertised in June?

- Was someone appointed?

- If so, what prompted the re-advertisement of the position this week? Was that person subsequently dismissed or did they resign their position?

- If it was the case that no one was hired following the commencement of the recruitment process in June, did Irish Water consider delaying the collection of personal information from the public until an information security and data protection manager was hired?

- The June advertisement stated that the successful applicant would work under the company’s “communications and corporate services” section. The advertisement posted this week said that they would work under the finance department. What prompted this change?

Irish Water issued a one- line reply to these queries.

“IT sits within the finance function, and it is a better fit for the role to sit in IT,” the reply read.

Irish Water refused to answer any other queries relating to the post.

“Unfortunately I can’t get into the specifics of this,” an Irish Water spokesperson said when asked for a reply to the other queries.

Data protection at Irish Water came under scrutiny last week when it was revealed that the utility posted the personal bank details of a dozen members to their landlords.

Government ministers this week moved to assure the public that it is safe to send PPS numbers to Irish Water as part of the company’s registration process, amid concerns surrounding the retention of data.

If Irish Water is successful in appointing an information security and data protection manager this time, the new recruit will be expected to assess risks arising from transfer of information to and from external organisations, develop an assurance plan over the critical information security and data protection risks facing the company and provide training to all employees, contractors or other third parties, among other duties.

Irish Water previously insisted it has a “robust” data protection policy based on the protocols of its parent company Ervia, formerly Bord Gáis.

Mayor resigns from FG in protest

By Eoin English

The Fine Gael mayor of Drogheda, Kevin Callan, has resigned from the party in protest at the Government’s handling of water charges.

“I think people who are involved in putting this together now need to consider their position,” he said. He included former minister of state Fergus O’Dowd, who helped to establish Irish Water, in that call to consider his position.

“I think Fergus O’Dowd was central in this. I think he was the person who was there at the time who could have made a difference and he didn’t make that difference. Now he has called for others to resign, I think he needs to consider his own position,” said Mr Callan.

He tendered his resignation to Fine Gael’s general secretary Tom Curran yesterday and said he had been contemplating resigning since before the budget.

“This project that is Irish Water is toxic, politically speaking,” he said last night. “This whole debacle that is Irish Water has led me to the point of view that we are dealing with cronyism; we are dealing with allowances; we are dealing with all of this nonsense, bonuses, and people can’t do it.

“Irish people have carried the burden to get us out of the recession and they can’t do it any more.

“The question will be asked, where do you find the money, but that is not the question. The question is how can you take money from people who do not have it?”

Mr Callan, a barrister, was on the national executive of Young Fine Gael.

He said he told Fine Gael of his “deep dissatisfaction at the manner in which the Government have dealt with the issue of water charges and the provision of water services by Irish Water”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, said last night: “Mr Callan has clearly witnessed the people’s anger over water charges and has recognised that the Fine Gael leadership is not listening.”


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