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Sinn Féin stands against water charges

3 May, 2012 - by Brian Stanley TD

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on environment, community & local government, Brian Stanley TD and Assembly economic spokesperson, Conor Murphy MLA, today launched Sinn Féin’s policy paper reform of water services.

Speaking at the launch Stanley said: “Today Sinn Féin has clearly outlined our alternative to water meters and water charges.
The government’s arguments in favour of water rates simply do not stand up. The evidence indicates that the establishment of Irish Water and the introduction of water rates is more about privatisation than about conservation. Water meters and water charges does not encourage conservation. What does guarantee conservation is investing in the water sector, reducing the unacceptably high percentage of leaks and introducing water harvesting and dual flush systems as part of building regulations.”

Sinn Féin’s policy paper is calling for:

The establishment of a National Water Sector Framework Team.
This team would oversee governance of the water sector and capital investment for the sector. It would be made up of assistant city & county managers with responsibility for engineering and it would be convened and chaired by Secretary General of the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government. Sinn Féin Recommendations on Reform of the Water Sector
The introduction of block metering as opposed to installing domestic water meters in every household.
Sinn Féin does not support the installation of domestic metering. We support the introduction of district metering. This allows for local authorities to monitor water usage and leakage at neighbourhood level. We are opposed to household charging and therefore metering as a means to measure usage on this basis.
According to the Irish Academy of Engineers the cost of meter installation will be at least €500 million. This €500 million would fund the water conservation strategy for six years. It would be far more appropriate to invest the €500 in water conservation rather than meter installation.
Water metering does not reduce water consumption. The British-based, Environmental Agency outlined that in England, where water metering has been in place for many years, consumption is at 158 litters per head per day. While in Dublin the Dublin Water Supply Report of 2008 showed consumption is at 148 litres per head per day.
Return to at least 2011 level of capital spending on the water system. Capital investment in water is being cut from almost €435 million in 2011 to €331 million in 2012.
That’s a cut of €100 million or almost 25%. It’s a cut of nearly €200 million on the 2010 allocation, with more cuts planned until the budget is just €266 million. Clearly it is not the householder, but the water distribution network, that is the biggest culprit when it comes to water waste. The state’s water distribution network is antiquated. A decade of under-investment means that in some local authority areas more than half the water is leaking away. Sinn Féin calls for increased capital spending on the water system. We would strongly argue that there be a return to at least the 2011 level of capital funding. This investment will save money in the short, medium and long term. The average loss through leakage is 36%. It will guarantee the delivery of clean water, act as a significant economic stimulus and will prevent further water loss through leaks.
The government to take action on the outstanding water rates owed to the state by the commercial sector. While the Minister’s proposals are focused on the domestic householder there is not mention of the debt owed by the commercial sector. Only 52% of commercial water rates are collected. So it appears that household are being penalised for lack of building planning, leaking pipes and general poor governance. The Government must take action on the outstanding water rates owed to the state by the commercial sector.
Development an All-Ireland strategy on water provision.
There are 34 local authorities supplying water to nearly two million households while a whole other structure, NI Water, delivers a similar service across the border. With eight river basin districts covering both sides of the border, Sinn Féin wants to see a real coordination of resources on an All-Ireland basis. There is a requirement on both the Assembly/Executive and Irish Government to collaborate on the delivery of services going into the future where shared resources, joint capital investment in infrastructure and procurement amongst other matters would clearly prove beneficial not only in border regions, but also more widely on an all-Ireland basis.

Conor Murphy MLA explained, “As Assembly minister with responsibility for water services I blocked any attempt to introduce water rates. Westminster tried to bully us into imposing water charges, we successfully resisted this. We invested £1 billion over four years, £1 million every day, without ever introducing water rates.
“This money was raised through inter departmental savings. Up to 6% was saved through efficiencies. This money was used to upgrade the water system. The Irish government are wrong to say that all citizens in the EU pay water rates. I can safely say water rates is off the agenda in the northern Assembly.”

During today’s Dáil Question Time, Stanley asked the Minister for environment: “To reconsider the proposal to introduce water meters and water charges as metering is not an option for one third of households in Dublin. The government would be better off diverting money away from water meters and investing it in upgrading our water service. Water leakage is at 41%, no amount of water meters or water rates will reduce that. Capital investment must be increased to improve our aging, collapsing water sector.”

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