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There can be no backroom deal on water – Ó Broin

12 April, 2017 - by Eoin Ó Broin TD


Sinn Féin TD and spokesperson on Water Eoin Ó Broin has said that Sinn Féin will continue to hold Fianna Fáil to their election commitments to aid in the abolition of domestic water charges and that any attempt to broker a back room deal on their reintroduction will be met by the continued mobilisation of the broad Right2Water movement until a publicly owned and funded water and sanitation system delivered on the basis of need and not ability to pay is in place meeting the needs of the entire community.

The Dublin Mid-West TD said:

“Three years ago, the Right 2 Water movement hit the streets. It was a mass movement of communities, trade unions and political parties. It was a reaction to the austerity assault of Fine Gael and Labour. Just like housing and health, decades of underinvestment left people with a crumbling public service.

“Almost half of all treated water was being wasted by the state. Raw sewage was being pumped into our rivers and seas.

“When it came to the deal to put Enda Kenny back into Government, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail couldn’t agree on water; so they bought some time with an Expert Commission and Water Committee.

“The Oireachtas Water Committee received nine separate pieces of legal opinion from six different sources. They all gave conflicting advice

“Indeed, one Senior Council ‘on mature reflection’ gave two conflicting sets of advice on the final draft report itself within a matter of days.

“Any attempt to use the room granted by Fianna Fáil to introduce water charges through the back door will be met with the same mass campaign that dogged the previous Government.

“We will be watching the progress of the legislation arising from the Water Committee’s report very closely.

“We will continue to hold Fianna Fáil to their election commitments.

“And the broad Right2Water movement of communities, trade unions and political parties will continue to mobilise until our goal of a publicly owned and funded water and sanitation system delivered on the basis of need and not ability to pay is in place meeting the needs of the entire community.” 

Note: Please see the full text of Deputy Ó Broin's speech below 

Check against Delivery

Three years ago the Right 2 Water movement hit the streets.

It was a mass movement of communities, trade unions and political parties.

It was a reaction to the austerity assault of Fine Gael and Labour

Yes it was about much more than water

But at its heart it was always about water

Just like housing and health, decades of underinvestment left people with a crumbling public service

Almost half of all treated water was being wasted by the state

Raw sewage was being pumped into our rivers and seas

Rather than invest in fixing the system Phil Hogan and then Alan Kelly had a better idea

Let’s commodify water – turn it into a product that can be bought and sold

Let’s financialise water services – take them off the books, run them like a corporation, bury it in debt

And just as night follows day the next move was always going to be privatisation

People would get the water service they deserve we were told

This was a short cut for delivering where past Governments had failed

But the truth was very different

All people would get would be meters, bills, water poverty and the guarantee of rising prices in the future

Three years of hard campaigning

Hundreds of thousands of people marching, boycotting, voting

The sheer strength of the campaign forced Fianna Fáil, the party who introduced water charges, to change their position

Their election manifesto had a clear commitment to scrap the charge and abolish Irish Water

A majority of TDs elected to this Dáil gave clear commitments to abolish water charges and Irish Water

But when it came to the deal to put Enda Kenny back into Government Fine Gael and Fianna Fail couldn’t agree on water

So they bought some time with an Expert Commission and Water Committee

And here we are today with the end product of Simon Coveney’s unwanted and unnecessary process

The Right2Water movement can rightly be proud of the impact we have had on the water debate

Phil Hogan and Alan Kelly Frankenstein water charge regime is dead

The principle that domestic water services should be funded through general taxation and government borrowing has been accepted

Denis O’Brien’s metering programme has been stopped in its tracks

People who were bullied into paying will get refunds

People in group water schemes will finally be treated equally

And crucially a referendum enshrining the public ownership of water and water services has been promised

Because we don’t trust this government when it says it doesn’t want to privatise our water

None of this would have happened without the Right2Water Movement

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would have blindly dragged us down the road of commodification, financialisation and privatisation

They haven’t got their way

But Right2Water isn’t finished yet

The final report agreed by the Committee falls far short of what the majority of people want

Irish Water remains in place, in fact thanks to Fine Gael and Fianna Fail we weren’t even allowed to discuss it at the committee

Mandatory metering in new builds and refurbishments will continue

And a back door has been left open to water charges in the future though the charge for so called excessive use

Last week things looked very different

For once it seemed that Fianna Fáil were going to keep their election promise on water charges

The joined the five Right2Water TDs in closing any back door to water charges and opposing mandatory metering

But then Minister Coveney issued a last minute diktat to his almost coalition partners

Give me my meters and my metered charge for excess use or I’ll force an election

Deputy Cowen huffed and puffed and threaten to block Simon's bid for Taoiseach

And then…. He did what has become his habit when Minister Coveney puts it up to him

He backed down

Fine Gael got their meters

They got their charge for so called excessive use

They even got their lower threshold based on household rather than individual average usage

I almost felt sorry for Barry

It must be hard when your party, fearing a general election, throws you to the wolves

I also felt sorry for the Fianna Fáil members of the water Committee

In the space of four weeks they had four different positions on charging for so called excess use and mandatory metering

Last week they voted against both

Yesterday they voted for both

They must have whiplash with the speed of all those u-turns

Of course they will hide behind the legal advice to the Committee

In fact they almost sound like Minister Coveney on this

But the decisions on charges and meters have nothing to do with EU law

The Oireachtas Water Committee received nine separate pieces of legal opinion from six different sources

They all gave conflicting advice

Indeed one Senior Council “on mature reflection” gave two conflicting sets of advice on the final draft report itself within a matter of days

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that there is no legal consensus on any of this

Perhaps the greatest irony in this fake legal debate is that Ministers –past and present- who presided over flagrant breaches of EU water and environmental law, that will result in hefty fines from the European Court of Justice,  have a cheek to lecture the rest of us on legal compliance

I have no doubt that this state can be fully compliant with the core environmental objectives of the Water Framework without metered domestic water charges

They do it in Scotland, they do it in the North of Ireland – there is no reason why we cannot do it here.

To conclude Ceann Comhairle Fine Gael’s victory is not really a victory at all

The distance they have been dragged by Right2Water since 2014 is huge

Their failed efforts to introduce some kind of water charge regime is on its very last legs

Any attempt to use the room granted by Fianna Fáil to introduce water charges through the back door will be met with the same mass campaign that dogged and ultimately put a halt to the political careers of his predecessors

We will be watching the progress of the legislation arising from the Water Committee’s report very closely

We will continue to hold Fianna Fail to their election commitments

And the broad Right2Water movement of communities, trade unions and political parties will continue to mobilise until our goal of a publicly owned and funded water and sanitation system delivered on the basis of need and not ability to pay is in place meeting the needs of the entire community.

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