The Right2Water battle continues and it’ll never end

Water is now the most valuable resource on the planet. In the UK, water companies generate three times the profit levels of oil or gas. With water becoming scarcer, and the planet’s population growing, the battle for water ownership and privatization is only going to continue and escalate. Big business knows this:

“Water is a focus for those in the know about global strategic commodities. As with oil, the supply is finite but demand is growing by leaps and unlike oil there is no alternative.” – Credit Suisse.

Household names such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit    Suisse, Allianz, Deutche Bank and HSBC have joined companies such as Nestlé in securing a stake in the privatisation of water. Others firms such as Veolia Water, a company intimately linked with Irish Water, form part of a conglomerate known as the Global Water Summit, whose domain name ( tells us everything we need to know about the agenda being pursued by those involved.

So with this in mind, we must accept that elements of the Irish political establishment and the elites of the world will always be trying to commodify and get their hands on our water so they can hand it over to private profiteers, and that the battle will never, ever end. There’s simply too much money to be made from water for them to ever walk away from obtaining its ownership – so we can’t either.

Is this a victory?

Much criticism has been made of a number of TD’s who support Right2Water declaring a victory on the plinth of the Dail on 5th April 2017. At that particular time, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Water had agreed a draft report stating that charges were to be abolished, mandatory metering would end and the referendum to enshrine public ownership of our water supply would take place. Had that Report been adopted, it would indeed have been a massive victory for everyone who had campaigned against water charges.

Instead, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael conspired to change the report outside of committee hearings, a scandal in itself, undermining the democratic processes of the Oireachtas, and not for the first time. In the same week, Simon Coveney, the Minister responsible for water, issued threats to the committee when he wrote to the Chair.

The result was another flip-flop from Fianna Fail who were now back in favour of water charges. Remember, before the 2016 general election, Fianna Fail not only declared that they would scrap water charges, but that they would also abolish Irish Water.

Here’s a direct line from Fianna Fail before the election:

“Fianna Fáil is committed to:

  • Abolishing Irish Water
  • Suspending water charges
  • Investing in infrastructure
  • Returning services to democratic local councils under  a national framework.”

What happened after the election was that more than two thirds of all TD’s elected were officially opposed to water charges. Yet the charges remained. As David Gibney said in 2016, this is an affront to democracy.

But back to the victory. Was it a victory? Not exactly. The government are continuing to ram water charges in through the back door. They will do anything they can to keep this project alive. After losing half of their seats in the last election, you’d wonder whether some of these government TD’s have shares in private water companies.

The call of a ‘victory’ was a bit premature. However, was it a scandal that they spoke on the Dail plinth and declared a victory? No. It was naieve to trust the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members of the committee but with an Independent chairing the committee, one might expect a bit of honesty. Furthermore, it must be remembered that Fine Gael members of the committee were out lobbying the media on the plinth for weeks, trying to get favourable coverage for their arguments, which they obviously received. The Right2Water TD’s had to challenge that.

The Right2Water campaign has also come in to criticism for declaring a “substantial victory for people power.” Now this, I believe, is true.

Think back to 2010 and the original plans for water charges. John Gormley from the Green Party had planned to raise €1 billion from domestic water charges. By 2014, that had reduced to €300m. By 2015 it was down to €271m and now it’s down to €0.

In terms of households, a four person family in 2014 was expecting a bill for €480. By November 2016, that was down to €260. And everyone was offerred a €100 ‘conservation grant’ to subscribe to Irish Water. Three years later and there are no bills and those who were intimidated into paying are expecting a refund.

Furthermore, Irish Water is no longer looking for your PPS number, they are no longer threatening to turn your water down to a trickle for being unable to pay your bills, the government were forced to legislate to keep Irish Water in public ownership and there has now been a unanimous vote in favour of a referendum in the Dail, Eurostat ruled against the government in their off-balance sheet exercise, and there are many, many more victories. Arguably, the greatest is the increased level of cooperation of TD’s opposed to austerity as was seen throughout the water committee hearings. Does this mean the battle is over? No, it never will be, as mentioned previously.

Importantly, the next two steps in this battle are to:

  1. Insist that the government includes the 9.4 Exemption from the Water Framework Directive in their River Basin Management Plans.
  2. Demand that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, along with the Government, deliver the referendum to enshrine ownership of our water in the hands of the public.

The River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) and the 9.4 Water Framework Directive Exemption

Despite mischievous reports to the contrary, the Right2Water campaign has continually called for the utilisation of the Water Framework Directive 9.4 exemption from domestic water charges. The campaign shared Kathy Sinnott’s article on the exemption in 2014. We also shared Marian Harkin’s video in relation to the exemption. In fact, in a letter of complaint to RTE about their coverage of water charges, the campaign coordinators were highly critical of the portrayal by the State broadcaster that the derogation was gone.

For anyone interested, Right2Water sent a detailed submission to the Expert Commission on Water which is available for anyone to read in full here. This is a good resource for anyone wishing to understand Right2Water’s true perspective on water charges. But specifically in relation to the exemption – or derogation, as it’s often referred to, the excerpt is here:

“In response to a question from Irish MEP Marian Harkin in June of this year, the European Commission stated that:

‘Ireland made a clear commitment to set up water charges to comply with the

provisions of Article 9(1) [of the Water Framework Directive] ... Ireland

subsequently applied water charges and the commission considers that the directive does not provide for a situation whereby it can revert to any previous practice.’

However, the Commission is also on record as stating that it considers “established practices” to be those practices which were “an established practice at the time of adoption of the directive”. This Directive was adopted on October 23rd, 2000, and transposed into Irish law in 2003, when it is beyond doubt that Ireland used general taxation as its established practice. Indeed, this was the established practice right up until the introduction of domestic water charges in October 2012 in a project which has now been resoundly rejected by the majority of Irish citizens.

On this basis, Right2Water believes it is the Irish government’s duty to use its derogation, justify its approach to river basin management and, if necessary, challenge the Commission through the EU courts. If the political will is there this could be done with reference to the 2014 landmark case on EU water recovery rules whereby the European Court of Justice found in favour of Germany, after the European Commission tried unsuccessfully to take that state to court for, in its opinion, failing to fulfil its Water Framework Directive obligations. This judgment conclusively stated that it cannot be inferred that the absence of pricing for water service activities will necessarily jeopardise the attainment of the Water Framework Directive.”

To clarify this matter further, every time you call for water charges to be scrapped, you are calling for the use of the derogation. If the government were to agree to the scrapping of water charges, or the Joint Oireachtas Committee was to recommend in favour of scrapping water charges, this would obviously have to be done by using the 9.4 exemption.

However, those who have insisted that the Right2Water campaign prioritise the 9.4 exemption above all else are playing a very dangerous game. Even if the government include the derogation in the River Basin Management Plan, the government can still bring in or continue with water charges. Simply utilising the exemption does not scrap water charges, abolish Irish Water or end metering for that matter. Are those who portray the inclusion of the derogation as the only way to achieve success unaware that the derogation has been in existance since 2003, and yet the government brought in water charges anyway? Are they ok with water charges in place, as long as we have the exemption?

Having said that, it is true that if the government does not include the derogation, it will be devestating for the campaign. Over the coming weeks and months we need to focus our attentions – collectively – on those who can ensure the exemption is included in the River Basin Management Plan. This includes Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Independent Alliance. You can find out more about the RBMP here and we will be lodging our submission shortly which will be available to the public.

It’s important also to remember that the 9.4 exemption is not permanent. It has to be included in the RBMP by the government of the day. They and they alone have the right and, in our opinion, obligation, to compile and submit such plans. Each RBMP covers a six year period and the current plan is overdue and will apply until 2021, when again, we will have to demand it is included again. Remember we said this is a permanent battle? This is also one of the reasons why all those opposed to water charges must get sufficiently organised. More on this later.

Attacks from within?

Right2Water is a broad based campaign, deliberately so. Since the beginning we have encouraged all activists to utilise all peaceful methods to prevent water charges from being imposed on the Irish public while not focusing on one tactic alone. This included support for those boycotting bills, blocking the installation of water meters and lobbying of politicians. This strategy has been a success, so far. Through mass mobilisation on numerous fronts, and through unity, together we have delivered some major victories along the way.

However, since the beginning of the campaign, there has been powerful opposition. The Irish State has come down heavy on protesters like those from Jobstown in recent weeks. The mainstream media has continually misrepresented the anti-water charges movement and protesters have been labeled ‘dissidents’, ‘sinister fringes’, and even been equated to ISIS. Irish Water has been spending more than €3 million a year on advertising, so we were never going to get a fair hearing. So called ‘experts’ have been rolled out for a well resourced pro-water charges lobby. The EU has set up fiscal rules which incentivise commodification and privatisation of water. This is all to be expected.

What is unexpected and unexplained is how many who say they want water charges scrapped continually misrepresent others in the campaign. Why do some attack politicians who have continually voted to scrap charges and refuse to vent their anger or attention at politicians who vote in favour of them – like Fianna Fail or Fine Gael? They criticise five TD’s on a committee of 20 for not being able to include the 9.4 exemption, yet have never criticised the person who drafted the report or any of those who voted in favour of it.

When you look at the facts and the statements linked above, you wonder what motivation some of these activists have in trying to undermine the Right2Water campaign?

Right2Water’s most recent blog has one sentence which captures the demands of the campaign:

“Irish Water should now be abolished, wasteful metering programme should be ended, a referendum must be held and all charges against water protesters should be dropped.”

This has been consistent throughout the campaign, so those who refer to political parties, independent politicians, Right2Water representatives or anyone else within the campaign as ‘sell outs’, must have some other agenda? Again, for clarity, this is the official Right2Water policy and it hasn’t changed since it was adopted.

For those who still question the motivations of Right2Water, more evidence is here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

All Right2Water meetings are public and anyone can attend and have their say. If anyone has genuine criticisms of strategy or tactics, they can contact us at It is important to note that this campaign does not have and never had anyone working full-time on it.

In the meantime, those who have experienced and felt the power we have all felt over the last number of years through the water charges movement, and are genuine about achieving real change in our country, can attend a ‘Congress for a New Ireland’ on Saturday, 9th September 2017 to establish exactly how we can work together to achieve more successes, including the future abolition of water charges. Please register to attend the conference here.