The Last Straw for Irish Citizens: The Struggle Against Water Charges

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The Last Straw for Irish Citizens: The Struggle Against Water Charges

Protesters rally in Swords County, Ireland against a government plan to tax domestic water use. (Photo: Right2WaterIreland)

A European country in crisis. Men in black come to the rescue. With the complicity of the national government, they impose painful measures on the population. Men in black never forget to be nice to their friends, so the measures include a provision to privatize public water services. As a reaction, massive citizen’s mobilizations take place. The story sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We have already experienced this situation in Greece, and just a few months ago, Greek citizens won the battle, and water will remain in public hands. Now history repeats itself, and the struggle against water privatization and commodification is at boiling point in Ireland.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Irish Government and the men in black (also known as the Troika, formed by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) provides for the introduction of domestic water charges and the establishment of a new water utility, Irish Water, easy to be privatised in the near future. In a nod to their cronies, the men in black tapped former Irish Minister of Environment Phil Hogan, who led the implementation of these changes, as the new European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Following months of protests and resistance, on November 1, more than 150,000 people mobilized across Ireland to oppose the changes. Water charges in Ireland will discriminate against those with less economic means and the unemployed, adding another regressive tax at a time when citizens have been asked to make too many sacrifices to solve an economic crisis which they did not cause. Ireland’s public water system is already paid for through general taxation, which is progressive, and charges commercial users. The Irish people have already shown that they wish it to remain that way.

Once again, European citizens should raise their voice against water privatization and commodification. Food & Water Europe, together with our allies at the European Water Movement, want to express our solidarity with Irish citizens. Resisting water charges means fighting for access to water as a universal human right, and against the commodification of water. And it means blocking future privatization attempts.

When will the European Commission finally get the message? Its provisions to privatize water failed in Greece, and they will fail in Ireland if citizens continue with their mobilization. People in the streets of Dublin, Madrid or Athens; citizens voting in Thessaloniki, Rome or Berlin; nearly 2 million Europeans signing the Citizens Initiative on the Right to Water. All of them are claiming water as a public and common good. Men in black should be nice, for a change, to their citizens — not to their friends.

You can support the Irish campaign on the Right to Water here.

David Sánchez

David Sánchez

David Sánchez is Food & Water Europe’s campaign officer, based in Brussels. He works together with local grassroots movements for safe, accessible, sustainable public water in the EU and looks at sustainable food and trade. He studied environmental sciences at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain and holds a master’s degree in ecology. He has been involved in the Spanish and European food sovereignty movements, campaigning on GMOs, agrofuels, factory farming and promoting local food networks. He can be found at dsanchez(at)fweurope(dot)org.

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