Government Accused of Bullying Over Water Charges

April 25, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Following statements by the Taoiseach last week regarding his belief that, in future, water services to non-paying families should be cut off, the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) has said that such a scenario is “not going to happen”.

Mr John Lyons of the CAHWT said that the onus would be on local authorities to prosecute households for non-payment. To do this, he said, each authority must create a database of names and addresses, before issuing a summons to each non-paying household. “The worst-case scenario is that, when it is proved to a district court judge that you are in fact the owner of the property, and are failing or refusing to pay, that judge could impose a fine of between 1,000 and 2,500 euro,” said Mr Lyons.

“Now with nearly one million people having decided not to register and not to pay, the very notion that 34 local authorities across the country could compile a database, and then summons almost a million people and take them through the legal system is, frankly, it’s not going to happen. The system would come to an absolute standstill, there’d be a logjam,” said Mr Lyons. 

“So while people are aware that there is that possibility that you could be one of the nearly one million home-owners who are taken to court, the fact that the fine has a 2,500 euro maximum value is a gamble worth taking in a lot of people’s eyes.”

This view was corroborated by Independent TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim, Mr Luke Flanagan, who said: “Given the massive number of people who have not paid, it is about as likely that one will be brought to court as it is that one would win the lottery. If someone is brought to court they will be supported by hundreds of thousands of people on the day.”

Mr Lyons said: “If we stand together and show our solidarity, our unity and our strength, we can say to the government, ‘Look, this is all about making the ordinary people pay for a financial crisis we had no hand or part in’. Frankly, people just don’t have the money to pay the household charge, and now they’re talking about a tax on water! I don’t think the politicians and the Troika that is standing behind them realise how hard people are having it these days.”

Turning off the taps

“They’re putting the fear of God into people with these stories,” said Mr Lyons.

“That the leader of this country would threaten to turn off what is a life-saving resource, water. It shows how low the political classes in this country will stoop to bully and threaten people into paying new taxes,” he said. 
Mr Flanagan confirmed the nature of these tactics, stating that any move to turn off the taps of non-paying customers would be “politically impossible”.

Mr Lyons also described as “frightening” government plans to create a new Irish water services company along the lines of Bord Gais (“An Bord Gush”, he called it), which could have far-reaching consequences into the future. 

With one body controlling water supply in Ireland, Mr Lyons said that “when you start to charge for a certain service, EU rules and regulations come into play, which means that the element of competition has to be facilitated. This is the first step toward the wholesale privatisation of water in this country.”

According to Dublin West TD Mr Joe Higgins, “once water is turned into just another commodity, then the service is ripe to be picked off by private, profit seeking, water companies. That is how the domestic refuse services came to be removed from the hands of the local authorities, leaving householders at the mercy of the privateers. Domestic water metering is simply a preparation for water going the same way.”

Mr Lyons said: “We have to scotch the notion straight away that we currently don’t pay for water. We actually do pay for water, through central taxation, both direct and indirect.

“We do have serious problems with the water infrastructure in this country, and if the government was serious about creating jobs and trying to stimulate the economy, they would look at the remedial work that needs to be carried out,” said Mr Lyons.

“In Dublin alone, we lose nearly half of the water each year through leaks in the pipes, with parts of the system dating back to the turn of the last century. There are so many plumbers who are unemployed at the moment, and you could have a massive public works scheme which would put many unemployed workers back to work,” he said.

According to estimates from the CAHWT, water taxes coupled with the household charge will mean that most people living in an average home will be paying between 1,000 and 1,200 euro on an annual basis. “That’s the reason why people are deciding not to pay. People simply can’t afford that,” said Mr Lyons.
Mr Lyons also said that the fractious scenes from the recent Labour Party Conference in Galway were, “not surprisingly”, blown out of proportion. He said it was a manifestation of the anger that has built up among ordinary people in Ireland regarding such matters as the household charges.

According to Mr Flanagan, the scenes from the Labour Party Conference were a sign that “the more this government pushes the most vulnerable people into desperation, the more they will see this sort of reaction. It is inevitable.”