Oireachtas Committee on Water must recommend abolition of water charges

A letter sent to all TD's and Senators today by Right2Water:

Dear Deputy/Senator,

As you are no doubt aware, water charges have been the biggest political issue over the last number of years. Indeed two thirds of those elected to Dail Eireann last year were returned with a democratic mandate to abolish water charges. This is backed up by the Irish Times MRBI Poll which shows that 62% of Irish people want water charges scrapped while only 34% said they wished to keep them.

Last week the Right2Water campaign was invited to attend the Oireachtas Committee on water to put forward our campaign’s position. Some TD’s and media outlets have selectively interpreted our responses to questions from members of the committee and previous media interviews.

Insofar as Right2Water have ever been interpreted as commenting on an excess use charge, this should only be considered in the form of a swimming pool tax to assuage the oft cited media and political concerns in this respect. In fact, the questions asked at the Oireachtas hearing and on RTE’s Sean O’Rourke Show both referenced swimming pools as the example of excessive usage.

Let us be unequivocal here. Right2Water does not believe metered domestic water charges should be implemented for a number of reasons:

  1. There is no evidence that Irish people are profligate with their water. As the ‘expert commission’ stated in their report, “The expert commission has not seen any evidence that Ireland has particularly high levels of domestic water usage” and Irish people are at the ‘lower end of the spectrum’ when it comes to comparing water usage among other European countries. In fact, Irish people use between 15-25% less water than UK households, again as cited by the ‘expert commission’, as well as 35% less water usage than people in Germany.
  2. Ireland has the among the highest rates of water availability in the world, with water availability four times higher than France and fifty time higher than Israel, for instance.
  3. The imposition of domestic water charges for ‘excessive usage’ would be the thin end of the wedge. No doubt, like other nominal charges (for example bins charges), these charges will increase over time and any potential allowances would also be eroded over time.
  4. Implementing domestic water charges would double the cost of water infrastructure in the medium term from €350 per annum per domestic unit to €700 per annum per domestic unit. This is due to the costs of metering including installation, maintenance, administration and replacement. There are further costs including advertising (€3 million per year), postage (€6 million per year) and consultants (€90 million to date).
  5. Any metered watered system would be a stepping stone towards privatisation irrespective of the government’s declarations or position. For instance, the Troika has forced privatisation of water in countries where there is economic turbulence.
  6. There is little evidence to show that water meters increase conservation. Again, in the ‘expert commission’s’ report they state that conservation only occurs where there are education and awareness campaigns.

For these reasons and more, Right2Water is opposed to any metered domestic charges. Even if members of the Dail are to consider imposing a charge for the non-existent ‘excessive use’ at the levels indicated in the expert commission’s report (90% of users or 150% of average domestic consumption), this would only yield between €14m and €27m. To spend almost €300 million of taxpayers’ money every year pursuing this relatively small amount would be economically irresponsible and idiotic.

Arguments by some in favour of metering because it helps identify leaks are disingenuous. More than 41% of all water is leaked before it gets to taps. 97% of that leakage does not come on the household side and district metering would be a far more efficient investment in terms of identifying leaks and addressing the inadequacies in the system.

In terms of funding our water services, it is the position of Right2Water that this should come from general taxation. Also, as referenced by the expert commission, the 50% of commercial water charges that are not collected on an annual basis should be pursued and the lack of ‘abstraction charges’ where companies like Britvic (Ballygowan) and others can extract our natural spring water in limitless supplies and do not pay anything needs to be addressed.

We have attached our full submission to the ‘expert commission’ for your perusal should you need any further clarity on any of the above.

In conclusion, Right2Water has forced a national discussion about water charges despite successive government’s attempts to steamroll the regressive policy through the Oireachtas. All of the evidence presented by Right2Water for three years now has been proven correct by the expert commission. While our campaign and our policy position was largely ignored by governments and media outlets, the public were listening to us – resulting in some of the largest demonstration in Irish history and the electoral outcome last year. Any attempts to implement any form of domestic water charges should be seen as an attack on the democratic outcome of the last election. In this context, we are demanding that all members of Dail Eireann who stood on a platform of abolition of water charges in General Election 2016 follow through with their mandate and end water charges once and for all.

We are also calling on all members of the Oireachtas to swiftly pass legislation allowing a referendum on ownership of our water to progress as soon as possible so that the Irish public do not have to put up with another thinly veiled water privatisation fiasco in the future. 

Yours sincerely,

Right2Water Coordinators

David Gibney

Brendan Ogle