The motion was passed but it was noteworthy that the numbers of speakers were reduced to two on each side as the organizers had difficulty getting a speaker(s) to speak against the motion!
Not a single representative from any government party was present nor did they send a representative along to the debate.
The two speakers for the motion were Niall O’Brollacháin member of the Green Party and former City Councillor and Mayor of Galway and the other speaker was a student.
For the motion was myself and Ciaran Enrich a candidate in the recent local elections.
See copy of speech below.
Lit and Deb Society-Water Charges Debate: 23rd October 2014
Apologies from the outset for the clichés, puns and biblical references but the temptation proved irresistible given the slippery nature of the topic ‘Water Charges’, the language and nature of the semi state body, ‘Irish Water’ from which we as citizens will be allotted the necessary allowance to survive and more of course if we can afford to pay and given the nature of the FG/Lab Government intent on washing its hands of any responsibility or blame and who like Salomé (without her beauty!) are demanding a head or heads on a platter without even the slightest pretence at a debate on such an important issue.
Let us just recall at this point that a human being can survive without food for many weeks but without water the survival rate is between three and five days!
Lets also recall that the current government set up Irish Water as a semi-state body in order to do its bidding and it had a major role in nominating its directors-remember the director who had to swim away from the Water-Board given the conflict of interest posed by his directorship and his regular job as a driver for a government minister.
Ah yes-and yet the Government continues to act like Pontius Pilate.
I am asking you to vote for the motion tonight for both the foregoing and the following reasons:
There was no debate of any substance indeed of any nature prior to the decision by Government to make a commodity of what is an essential life giving resource- our water.
Remember how the necessary legislation was rammed through our national Parliament with the use of a procedure known as the guillotine –indeed as I understand it, the combined opposition walked out of the Dáil last Christmas – such was their concern at the lack of debate.
Again the government failed to realize that neither of these tools/ techniques i.e. ramming and guillotine were appropriate to deal with a substance like water and the flood of opposition as witnessed on the streets of Dublin on Saturday the 11th October is rightly threatening to drown this government.
Not surprisingly given the lack of debate- serious problems have emerged. We now have the government scrambling to plug the holes and seeking scapegoats rather than accept that it make fundamental mistake.
Beginning with the name itself Irish Water: we saw the government’s initial failure to realize that we have two official languages.
It didn’t seem to occur to the Government either- that they should perhaps have some basic information at their fingertips and/or at the fingertips of Irish Water before letting the semi-state body wash over us with confusion.
Rather drip by demented drip basic information leaked out!
A flat fee would be imposed and allowances given-yet the precise details remained clouded in secrecy. Moreover confusion reigned over whether people already paying charges in group water schemes in rural areas or people with their own wells would be charged.
In addition, utterly contradictory information was given as to who would be responsible for the repair of existing leaks.
On any given day, the information changed depending on what radio or tv station one was listening to or indeed which government spokesperson was sent out to enlighten us or rather confuse us.
Eventually it emerged that the first call out would be free but subsequent call outs would not and the call out charge quoted varied enormously.
Then there was the Alice in Wonderland version of the bonus schemes applicable for high performing officials and even for lower performing officials.
On top of all this was the unaccountability Irish Water with members of the public reporting that phones were unanswered and/or the waiting for months before reported leaks were repaired.
Not to mention the requirement to give a person’s private information or the letters sent by Local Authorities threatening tenants with eviction for the non-payment of water charges.
And of course all that pales into insignificance compared with the information that gradually seeped out as to costs of setting up Irish Water including consultants’ fees-again depending on your source of information that figure has been quoted as anything between 86 million and 186 million.
Let me place this figure in a real context in Galway City where I am and have been a City Councillor for 15 years in two different wards.
During that time, City Management repeatedly informed Councillors that the magic figure of 40 million was required to sort out our water system particularly in terms of replacing the old pipes and stopping leaks-yet no money was ever forthcoming from Government to allow us to do this.
Further during that time as an elected member and notwithstanding two serious crises in relation to cryptosporidium and lead contamination- my belief in an open and accountable City Council as the best body to deliver our water services has deepened.
Water is a substance without which we cannot survive and is a basic human right.
To hive such a vital resource off to an unaccountable national body is simply wrong.
In my opinion the setting up of Irish Water and the charging for water has nothing to do with conservation but is simply the first step in privatizing our water services.
That opinion arises directly from my own experience: in this regard let me diverge for a moment and mention Galway City Council’s refuse service.
Arising from a successful anti-incineration movement led by the people and notwithstanding expensive consultants’ reports telling us that incineration was an absolute necessity and the maximum recycle rate that could be achieved was 45% and that only over a five year period-the people of Galway City showed vision and led the way.
More particularly in a very positive campaign in the East side of the City, a pilot project which ran for 6 weeks on a shoe string budget achieved a 70% diversion of refuse from landfill. Subsequently an ongoing 56% diversion rate from landfill was achieved throughout the city with our three bin refuse service.
Were we rewarded with bonuses or should I say performance related payments?
Were we heck! Firstly following government policy, the City Council introduced a pay by weight system, ostensibly to encourage recycling-a completely unnecessary step given that we were already leading the country with our recycling rates-then privatized the service!
Our wonderful refuse service was sold off last year to a private for profit company-already the weekly bin collection service has been reduced to fortnightly service and we are about to sell off our fantastic composting service on the Headford Rd. Why-Government policy.
Make no mistake therefore that once the government deals with water as a commodity, it is only a matter of time before they sell it to a private for profit company.
I have no hesitation in saying I am utterly opposed to such a development.
Water is not a commodity to be bought and sold on the stock market.
We have a right to clean water in order to survive and live and that water should be provided through an open and accountable local authority system-moreover we already pay for the service through our income tax.
Let me further add that the charging for water has nothing to do with the environment. We live in a City where rain falls from the sky on practically every day of the year (this Summer excluded!) and yet the government has never shown leadership or provided resources to local authorities and/or encouraged any of us to conserve water/harvest our rain water.
Indeed the advice during the lead crisis in Galway was to run at least three sinks full of water before drinking any water. We as a Council had to fight tooth and nail to receive funding to replace lead pipes in the City.
In addition for a very long time now we know that the Corrib- notwithstanding that it is our primary source of water – is polluted arising from a number of reasons including human sewage. This has lead directly to our very expensive water treatment system and despite cryptosporidium contamination in the past, no government funding or action has ever been forthcoming in relation to the Corrib itself.
To conclude the nature of the current debate with the hand wringing and washing fills me with horror and disgust.
Even now the debate is shallow, blaming and evasive without a word about the real issue. We hear Ministers both junior/senior and various TDs all decrying the debacle that is Irish Water all with an eye to keeping their Dáil seats -a blaming game rather than an honest and open debate on the decision to treat what is an essential resource as a commodity with a view to privatizing it.
I think perhaps it appropriate to finish my few words with a quote from William Wordsworth -a poet not known for his liberal outlook certainly in the latter part of his life but nevertheless- a quote – in the context of our debate here tonight more than two centuries after his birth- which is particularly apt:
In his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth wrote:
‘A multitude of causes, unknown to former times are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discrimination powers of the mind and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor’.
More than two centuries later in the 21st Century, a Savage Torpor if not universally prevailing in Ireland- is certainly the unwritten agenda and aim of this Government and its corporate friends
Let us vote for the motion and show them that we have arisen from our torpor.