Irish Water Tax – yet another barrier to water

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Irish water tax - tap

Hello fellow commoners.

This blog sort of relates to what we were discussing in class today and has been in the news recently. So I thought I’d post it here.

The Irish people are facing another barrier to their water access – a resource that should be free and a human right, wouldn’t you agree? The country is experiencing a problem with its water infrastructure. Irish water is being contaminated with bacteria because its out-of-date treatment systems struggle to purify it and people are forced to boil their tap water in order to be able to drink it. You’d think this is the problem the Irish are demonstrating about but in fact it gets worse.

It will cost Ireland €2billion to solve this problem and the government is planning to raise this money through a new water tax. Surprise, surprise…it has already employed a private (!) firm to install water metres in people’s homes in order to measure water usage. In the end the water tax will cost a family of four almost €500 a year, something that many will struggle to afford.

The truth is, however, that people are already paying for the water through general taxes. So essentially they are being charged twice, correct? Already, it costs the Irish government €1.2billion per year to maintain the current water supply, which has always been funded by the Exchequer. So why not continue to fund this new cost through general tax as well?

As the BBC points out “Raising money from water charges was a condition imposed on Ireland by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika as part of the country’s bailout in 2010”. (As an aside, it does make me wonder why they call it the ‘country’s bail out’, as though it was a crisis caused by the general public when it fact it was caused by banks and big companies taking on loans they were not able to meet…but I won’t go into this in detail here.) Nonetheless, these mistakes now have to be paid for by the Irish general public through charging them for the same water again. Something that should be a basic right and not something that can be sold as a commodity…twice. It is yet another example of an enclosure of a resource that should be treated and managed as a common resource, don’t you think?

One point that is more shocking however, is that Ireland continues to help big multinational companies, such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Co., avoid billions of Euros in tax by providing laws that favour them, nicknamed the ‘Double Irish’. Google alone has avoided over €2.5billion worth of tax from 2007-2009 partly through the ‘Double Irish’, which helped reduce Google’s tax to 2.4% compared to the normal 12.5%. Let’s not forget, it ‘only’ takes €2billion to solve the Irish water crisis…

Plus, as if only to frustrate the public more, the government decided to spend €86million on private consultants who advised on the setting up of a state-sponsored company in charge of water….and just so you know, this does not form part of the €2billion calculation.

So yet again, we have a situation where big companies and the financial sector’s gain is prioritised over the common people’s needs and indeed their rights. So what’s to be done about this? Of course, the likes of Google need to be taxed properly first of all but this lies in the hands of the government. With countless demonstrations already having taken place it is clear that the general public do not want this tax to be enforced, so what else could they do?

Irish water tax - demonstrations

Let’s take a look at Greece, who had similar bail-out conditions put on them, and see what they’ve got planned. The Greek have come up with a counter strategy, called ‘Initiative 136’ which calls on the public of Thessaloniki to buy the government’s 40% stake in the water utility (EYATH) of Greece’s second largest city, which it is looking to privatise. ‘136’ symbolises the value of the water company for each citizen. Marioglou, a representative of the movement, explains:

“The Initiative seeks to establish a network of 16 cooperatives in Thessaloniki to manage a truly public company. Because it would be unmanageable to have one large citizen body oversee the city’s entire water works, they will decentralize. Initiative 136’s organisers propose that the neighbourhood cooperatives decide on such issues as water tariffs and an investment budget.”

So here we have a water management institution that seeks to operate on the principles of ‘cooperativism’ and conceives water as a commons not a commodity. This initiative is part of the European Water Movement who endorse the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) for the Right to Water.

Find out more about Initiative 136 here and please let me know your thoughts on this in the comments section below. Do you think it could work in favour of the people?

Irish water tax - cooperative

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2 Responses to “Irish Water Tax – yet another barrier to water”

  1. chibwehenry Says:

    Great blog Franzi. Thanks for adding another dimension to the class lecture and discussion. I fell in love with the European Water Movement at first glance! This is definitely a case of the commons movement attempting to reclaim its processes of social reproduction, whilst capital continues to accumulate and reproduce itself. I believe that there is hope yet for this new commons movement!

    Their website states that the movement is working to redefine a new European social model and a new solidarity-based economy, with respect for rights and the environment, leaving behind a Europe of markets, of finance and of competition.

    It is interesting to see how the movement has elaborated it commons platform through The Naples Manifesto as a guide to immediate actions for modifying existing European directives or to work as a base for new bottom-up proposals for new directives and new principles for the governance of water in the European Union. These elements, already included in their 12 fundamental points are summarised in four main points below:

    Water is not a commodity, it is a collectively owned commons and a universal right and like other natural elements, it is fundamental for the balance of ecosystems and for the survival of the planet, its management must take into consideration the rights of the Nature;

    Ownership and management of water services and water infrastructure have to be public, participative and under social control;

    “Full cost recovery” as a guiding principle of financing integrated water services in Europe needs to be changed, instead, securing access to water and securing funds for investment in extraordinary infrastructures should be achieved through general taxation;

    The participation of citizens and workers in the management of services is a necessary condition for having a new governance model of the commons.

    These fundamental principals have clear parallels with Massimo’s case study in Johannesburg: Orange Farm, in South Africa. Which begs the question, is the Orange Farm commons water movement part of the Water Justice Movement? Definitely something to follow up and contrast with how the European movements are being mobilised.

  2. victoriaevbuomwan Says:

    yes raise taxes for their mess, typical isnt it? like Chibwe rightly commented, water is essential necessity, would, really interested to know this initiatives is welcome

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