The commitment to hold a referendum on safeguarding our water from privatisation has been made by Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party/AAA (Anti Austerity Alliance), the Greens, People before Profit and the newly-formed Social Democrats, while Fianna Fáil said they will sign up to a referendum “if necessary”.
Responding to a questionnaire on Irish Water compiled by the Irish Examiner, every opposition party except for Renua Ireland said they want a referendum to protect the multi-billion euro State asset.
Fine Gael and Labour ruled out a referendum, saying they believed such safeguards are already in place.
A number of the parties also specifically ruled out entering power unless Irish Water is scrapped — narrowing the Government’s options — and claimed they will fund water services reforms through EU funding and savings, despite admitting some tax rises may occur.
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The parties also confirmed they will not refund bill payers, potentially causing outrage among voters who have actually complied with the law.
The parties will also not make people pay back the controversial €100 conservation grant, despite some describing it as a Government bribe.
Fine Gael and Labour insist Irish Water is here to stay and that the opposition is making false promises and wrongly raising the threat of privatisation.
According to the answers to our questionnaire:
- All but one opposition party will hold a referendum to prevent water privatisation if elected.
Sinn Féin wants to “enshrine” the issue in the Constitution. The Socialist Party/AAA and People before Profit said they are “in favour” of a referendum.
The Greens said a referendum would “bring fears to an end”, while the Social Democrats said they would want a referendum, as Irish Water is “set up for privatisation”.
Fianna Fáil said a referendum “would be retained as an option, if necessary”, while Renua Ireland said its priority is to replace Irish Water.
- Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party/AAA and People before Profit said they will not go into power with any party that does not commit to scrapping Irish Water.
The Greens said it is a matter for its grassroots members. Renua said that the utility will feature “very highly on what we consider defining factors” and the Social Democrats said they will see what is “demonstrably cost-effective”.
- Fianna Fáil said it will not reimburse bill payers if Irish Water is scrapped, as it is a “side issue” and there is no “precedent” for refunds, a position mirrored by Sinn Féin.
The Social Democrats said the conservation grant should be “abolished”, and no party said it would take the €100 water conservation grant back from recipients.
- Renua was the only party to admit “direct investment by the State” may be needed to fund water service reforms and that usage charges may increase.
Fianna Fáil and the Greens both said costs could be covered by a mixture of existing taxes, savings and EU funding, while Sinn Féin, the Socialists/AAA and People before Profit offered versions of savings and tax hikes for firms and millionaires.
Controversially, the Greens suggested unpaid bills should be taken “into consideration when dealing with social-housing applications”.
The Irish Water controversy continued at the weekend with Labour backbench TD Arthur Spring admitting the conservation grant was about helping to beef up the utility’s finances. Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness claimed the firm has caused “more damage than Cromwell”.