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Dublin Opinion >>
Water Charges in Ireland
Monday September 14, 2015 18:34 by Shane J. Cassidy
Water Charges in Ireland
The ongoing Irish water crisis has seen the emergence of a sustained mass movement of people, protesting the imposition of these punitive charges.
If you were to look through Irelands history, you would see that the country and its people have experienced many different phases of domination and power. For hundreds of years Ireland was a small island colony under the control of the British empire consisting primarily of a rural-based population . The extent of centuries of oppression and victimhood inevitably left a mark on the consciousness of normal Irish people everywhere and as our language and culture was oppressed and destroyed, small pockets of resistance groups formed all over the island. Bogside classrooms and masses held on the sides of mountains are just some of the actions which were testament to fortitude of ordinary people everywhere refusing to surrender.
In 1921, having managed to finally overthrow the rule of the British on this island, through a bloody Civil War where many lives were lost, the future direction of this budding new State became very closely aligned with the the extremely influential and powerful clergy and the Catholic Church. Through fear, intimidation and the manipulating of people’s honest religious convictions, the Church was able to wield frightening levels of influence over the presiding governments of time with whom very warm relations were maintained. The Church acted with practical immunity for almost 70 years until revelations of rape and sexual assault on children under their care, along with steady investment from the EU since the 1970’s, began a fall from their lofty position of which they are still feeling the effects.
By the 1990’s, after decades of being one of Europe’s poorest nations, Ireland experienced a booming economy, known as the Celtic Tiger, which came to signify huge financial and property expansion throughout the country. Property developers and bankers were elevated into an almost priest-like position in Irish society where property speculation and risky lending was actively encouraged. The standard of living within the country rose sharply and Ireland became a huge success story around the world and the Irish government often hosted visiting diplomats from various countries who had come to study the miracle of the Irish economy. Irish ex-pats, who had emigrated to other parts of the world during the disastrous economic crash of the 1980’s, began to return home, bringing with them experiences and lessons learned from far flung places around the world. In a very short space of time, thanks largely to the influx of various different nationalities and Ireland’s hugely generous tax breaks which are afforded to private foreign corporations to establish here, Ireland transformed into a diverse and multicultural country. Sweeping social changes occurred during this period with homosexuality becoming decriminalised in 1993 followed by the legalisation of divorce in 1995.
However, by 2008 and with the onslaught of the global recession, it became clear that Ireland’s miracle economy had been based on unsteady foundations and the crash of the property bubble led to many people losing their jobs, their homes and hundreds of thousands of Irish people were forced into the same positon as their generation before them in the 1980’s and they had to emigrate around the world in search of opportunity. The Irish government, without proper foresight or consideration for the sustainable future of Irish people, made a decision to guarantee the debts which the banks had created. The Irish people were forced to assume the debts of banks and private bond holders and a system of punishing economic and social measures called ‘austerity’. These terms were dictated to the Irish people by the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank ( these 3 groups known collectively as the ‘Troika’).
As Irish people, we have always had to face a new power, be it the British Empire, the Catholic Church, the banks and now the Troika. Traditionally, perhaps as a result of our colonised background, we can tend to be slow to speak up but we know right from wrong. We can see there are injustices but we can often feel alone or disempowered or feel that others may not share our views. If you examine Irish history since the creation of this State, you will see that there has never been a tradition of serious, democratic, and sustained protests on the streets of this country as you would expect to see in other countries such as France or Greece.
However, that too is changing. For the first time since the creation of the State, people have finally said enough is enough. Without any attempts made to ask the people of Ireland what they would like to do with one of the most precious resources we have, the government announced that they were introducing charges for water. Since 2008, ordinary people have suffered greatly through these economic sanctions and finally the Irish State is witnessing a new phenomenon. People from all over the country have united around this issue and hundreds of thousands are simply refusing to even register to pay the charge. Others were imprisoned for protesting the installation of a water meter outside their homes. The company which was hired to install the water meters is owned by the same man who owns the Irish Water company, Denis O’Brien. On top of these considerable business interests, he also controls a large share of the Irish media where engaged and thoughtful discussion about these charges and the protests is completely absent.
These charges can be defeated. People in Ireland already pay €1.2 billion per year in taxes for our water. We are practical and reasonable. We understand that we need to treat water in order for it to be clean and healthy. We also wouldn’t ever want to see someone in this country have their water turned off if they didn’t pay their bill. We live in a country where water is plentiful and yet they want us to hand over our natural resource to a company owned by a private business man. Where are his interests ultimately going to lie with our water? The water belongs to the people of Ireland and we should be very slow to hand it over because once it is gone, it is very hard to get back. So far, Irish Water’s attempt to get everyone to pay has been a total failure. The best form of protest which we can engage in is refusal to pay.
In 2015, within 22 years of Ireland decriminalising homosexuality, the Irish people voted in a referendum to allow marriages between a gay couple to be recognised as exactly the same as a heterosexual couple. When the people of this country are given a voice – we have the power to do good and we must refuse to listen to the scare mongers who attempt to convince us that we should surrender our water to private interests. The wheel is turning and if history has taught us anything, it’s that – sooner or later, we will prevail.