"We can't pay! We won't pay!" was the call of tens of thousands who took to the streets of Dublin, Ireland on Wednesday to protest a controversial water fee—the latest in a series of unpopular austerity measures imposed on the country's citizens in recent years.
The demonstration is timed to coincide with the International Day of Human Rights, which marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The United Nations officially recognizes water and sanitation as a human right.
Participants in the massive march are calling for an abolition of the water charges—which are in step with a larger move to privatize the country's water system as part of a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund.
Replacing the water system funded by public tax dollars, the government set up a semi-state company to impose direct charges for water use. Critics say this fee presents an unjust financial burden to a population already struggling with joblessness, poverty, and cuts to state services.
In response to widespread public outrage over the water plan, the government recently announced slight reductions to some rates.
But Paul Murphy, writing in the The Irish Times ahead of Wednesday's march, argues the rates are still much too burdensome. "There is now a widespread understanding that water charges at any rate are unacceptable. They represent the commodification of a vital human need," Murphy said.
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"I suffer from severe arthritis, and I can no longer work," Michael Lumley, a 63-year-old unemployed father of three from County Tipperary, Ireland, told Al Jazeera America ahead of the march. "I receive a disability allowance to survive on each week, and like everyone else, I have bills to pay. I am dreading Christmas, as I will struggle to pay for it. I already pay for my water and can’t afford to pay any more."
Wednesday' protest, which comes on the heels of prior mass marches, can be followed on Twitter:
Included in the crowd were members of the Detroit Water Brigade, which has organized against water privatization and mass tap shut-offs in that U.S. city.
— Detroit WaterBrigade (@DETWaterBrigade) December 10, 2014