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Stanley calls on Labour Party keep promises to electorate

16 June, 2011 - by Brian Stanley TD


Speaking in the Dáil on the Sinn Féin Motion against the introduction of water charges, Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley called on members of the Labour Party who would have previously been against water charges before they entered Government to keep the promises they made to the electorate.

Deputy Stanley said;

“The purpose of this Private Member’s Motion is to restate Sinn Féin’s opposition to the Government’s proposed introduction of water charges. People should not have to pay for this essential public service which is a recognised as a basic human right.

“It is our belief, one which is not shared by the Government parties, that there should be equitable access to water without discrimination – including discrimination based on grounds of income. We are calling on all Members of the House to support this motion – including those in the Labour Party who would have previously been against water charges before they entered Government; those who told the electorate before the elections that they would help them out of the hopeless economic hell-hole that they now reside within.

“Little has changed between then and now except for the dates, the currency used, and the eradication of the principles of certain TDs, combined with a wholesale disregard for the promises they made to the people who gave them the votes that enabled them to drive home in the comfort of their Ministerial cars.

“People cannot afford another charge on top of the money they are already forking out. They are caught with the Universal Social Charge, Levies, PRSI, increased fuel bills, mortgage increases, plus the proposed utility charge, and all on top of absolutely brutal pay cuts and hours being cut back in their precarious jobs.

“It is easy for the Government to introduce a flat-rate water charge and say that it will be a small amount of money for the public to pay – not one of them are lying in bed at night having nightmares about their home being repossessed and dreading what’s around the corner in the next budget. No, they are sleeping not at all bothered that they have cynically transformed a crisis of private greed in to a crisis of public spending.” ENDS

The purpose of this Private Member’s Motion is to restate Sinn Féin’s opposition to the Government’s proposed introduction of water charges. People should not have to pay twice for this essential public service which is a recognised as a basic human right.
It is our belief, one which is not shared by the Government parties that that there should be equitable access to water without discrimination – including discrimination based on grounds of income.

I think that everybody recognises that water is a valuable resource, and it is clearly expensive to treat, however this must be paid for through the central domestic taxation system. The operational responsibility for water production, treatment and distribution must remain with local authorities. They must remain within full public ownership. This is not a resource that we can take chances with.

We are calling on all Members of the House to support this motion – including those in the Labour Party who would have previously been against water charges before they entered Government; those who told the electorate before the elections that they would help them out of the hopeless economic hell-hole that they now reside within.

I am calling on those Members who spoke out against water charges in the 80s and 90s to speak out against them now. That includes the Táinaiste Eamon Gilmore who produced a leaflet at one stage that denounced water charges as “just another tax on workers on top of PAYE, PRSI and Levies.” Also contained in that same leaflet is a criticism of the then Government for attempting to make people pay for water while they were “still looking after tax dodgers.”

Little has changed between then and now except for the dates, the currency used, and the eradication of the principles of certain Members of the House combined with a wholesale disregard for the promises they made to the people who gave them the votes that enabled them to drive home in the comfort of their Ministerial cars.

People cannot afford another charge on top of the money they are already forking out. They are caught with the Universal Social Charge, Levies, PRSI, increased fuel bills, mortgage increases, plus the proposed utility charge, and all on top of absolutely brutal pay cuts and hours being cut back in their precarious jobs. It is easy for the Government to introduce a flat-rate water charge and say that it will be a small amount of money for the public to pay – not one of them are lying in bed at night having nightmares about their home being repossessed and dreading what’s around the corner in the next budget. No, they are sleeping not at all bothered that they have cynically transformed a crisis of private greed in to a crisis of public spending.

Of course, ideologically speaking, the Government *must* introduce a flat rate charge for water – to do otherwise would be to explicitly acknowledge that those who have more should pay more. As George Orwell noted in ‘Animal Farm’ -“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Would Fine Gael privatise daylight if science found a way to allow them to do so? The introduction of water charges is a carry-on from the creeping privatisation process started by Fianna Fáil with the introduction of Design, Build and Operate Schemes.

Global Water Intelligence analysts believe that the water supply market will grow by 20% over the course of the next five years. Water is big business, and for a Government intent on feathering the nests of the haves rather than the have-nots it is unsurprising that they would wish to facilitate a situation where water is dealt with solely by the whims of market forces – the same market forces which have led us to the situation we are now in.

Market-led solutions completely undermine the provision of essential services and have a negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable communities – water privatisation is the most notorious example, and you only have to look across to England to see how that turned out there, with local authorities having to take court action to ensure people have a water supply. Private companies exist to make a profit. They are not going to maintain a profit while allowing for this mythical “free allowance” that Fine Gael have talked about. The Tories told the British people that the privatisation of telecoms, electricity, gas and water was for their benefit. Now the utilities are owned by companies making vast profits at their expense – the bills they all receive bear witness to that.

What I want the Government to tell us is; how is this water charge going to operate? What exactly is going to happen to the person who receives a water bill in the post who can’t pay? Will they be issued with a fine and how much will that fine be? And when they can’t pay that fine, will they be jailed? I presume so – because this is another act in the criminalisation of poverty.

Private companies operating water plants are a millstone around the necks of local authorities. They do not have full control over what happens within them. Local authorities are locked in to contracts with companies that they have to abide to the terms of. Take for example, the Local Authority who enters in to a DBO contract with Company X for 25 years, and the EU issues another water directive in five years’ time. The trend with these directives is that they will increase the standards of water – which we would support.

However, this is now outside the terms of the contract signed by Company X and the Local Authority has no option but to pay this corporation more money to operate the plant – it is a contractual obligation. This is too valuable a resource to play around with. We do not want to see the Irish public vulnerable to the price hikes and water poverty witnessed elsewhere in the world – particularly in countries that have been under strong IMF influence such as Argentina and Bolivia.

Despite the need for local authority funding, the Councils have for the most part proven themselves in the provision of water – they have local knowledge, expertise of water services and in most cases a proven track record. The reason we are losing half the water that is being produced at the moment because of the fiscal ineptitude of this and previous Governments. When there was money to put in to fixing pipes – the Government wouldn’t touch it, instead preferring to give tax breaks to developers. This Government plan to take extra money from the taxpayer without putting it back in the system to repair it. It is farcical.

Of course, Local Authorities have substantial funding in their Water Services Capital Accounts which could be used to fund repairs and replacements to the antiquated pipe network, but they are prevented from using it due to Government’s compliance with the terms of the EU Growth and Stability Pact. Louth has €10m, collected from development levies but they can’t touch it. In Laois there’s €7.5m, that can’t be utilised.

You don’t have to be beholden to the market. We are asking this Government to, for once, put the needs of the Irish people, ahead of the wishes of private interests and I strongly urge all Members of the House to support this motion.

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