The Campaign Against Household And Water Taxes (CAHWT) has said that attempts to impose water and property taxes on householders will be met with outright opposition in every corner of the state.
No matter whose figures you believe, almost one million households have refused to register for the household tax. If such large numbers of people are willing to put themselves in conflict with the government over a €100 household tax, it’s clear that the government have no hope of imposing property and water taxes which will result in each household having to pay a minimum of €1,000 per year.
Figures released just this week by the Irish League of Credit Unions showed that nearly half of all households have less than €100 left to spend at the end of each month having paid their bills. In addition the “Health Behaviour in School-aged Children” survey stated that one in five Irish children reported going to bed hungry during 2010. Austerity and the imposition of international finance’s gambling debts on the shoulders of ordinary people are having a real impact on people’s living standards. Yet the government seem to think that they will be able to squeeze even more money out of people. They are wrong. People are not going to pay these taxes.
Attempts to portray the water tax as being about water conservation are total nonsense. The creation of the Irish Water company is about paving the way towards privatisation of our water services. It is a demand of the troika and a long sought-after wish of big business. If the tax is successfully imposed, the next step will be to sell off the service, just as has happened with the bin collection service. The experience of the privatisation of Eircom whereby the extraction of profit became more important than the development of services and has ultimately resulted in the company going into examinership show the inevitable result of the policy of privatisation.
The experiences of Britain where water services have been privatised should also serve as a warning. Profits for shareholders have become much more important than investment in water services. Charges increase year on year and in many areas people regularly face water shortages.
The introduction of water meters will not solve the problem of water wastage. Most water wastage is as a result of leaks in a pipe system that needs huge investment to make it fit for purpose. Somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of all water currently leaks from the faulty pipe system. The fitting of water meters in people’s homes will do nothing to solve this problem. If water conservation was truly the objective it would make much more sense both economically and socially to invest in fixing these leaky pipes – creating much needed employment.
Water is of course a finite resource. However there is no evidence from international comparisons that the fitting of meters or the imposition of charges has much impact on usage levels. The fixing of the leaks combined with a major public education programme would have a much greater effect.
The bottom line is that both the property tax and water tax are unenforceable and uncollectable. In the 1990s the Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charge Campaigns, and community campaigns around the country, fought a successful campaign which forced the abolition of water charges. That campaign united people to support each other. Local campaigns and protests ensured that in all but a tiny handful of cases attempts to disconnect water were successfully resisted. In the few cases where water was disconnected, campaigners re-connected the water supply to those homes within hours.
When the then ‘rainbow coalition’ government tried taking people to court, the campaign organised to ensure legal representation and support for non-payers. The court system was made unworkable because we challenged and defended each case, but also because we turned court appearances into opportunities for massive public protest. People turned out in their hundreds to support their neighbours and it proved impossible for anything more than a tiny fraction of people to be taken to court. Eventually the government was forced to abolish the charges.
Over the last couple of months the Campaign Against Household And Water Taxes has firmly established itself in every corner of Ireland . Mass non-registration for the household tax is a fact. This means that we are in a far stronger position than we were in the 1990s. The battle against property and water taxes starts from a position of having an organised presence in practically every community. Having stood together, got organised and seen that we can build such a campaign, people have now got a much greater sense of their own strength.
People now know that we don’t have to accept the austerity agenda, that by organising together we can resist it. People know that there is strength in numbers – that strength will be brought to bear on the attempts to impose these taxes. It seems that the government is hell-bent on provoking a confrontation with the people. The people are ready for that confrontation and we will win.”
Like many other issues Labour when in opposition gave some serious hostages to fortune. Deputy Joanna Tuffy for example speaking on behalf of her party in December 2009 responded to the then Minister Gormley’s announcement regarding the installation of water meters by saying that the introduction of domestic water taxes would increase inequality.
In making their chaotic announcements this week the government have shown no regard for the evidence presented to the Oireachtas Environmnet Committee by various experts who contested the claims by this government over the cost of water metering and the extent to which it impacts on consumption. The government by making these announcements before the Oireachtas sub committee has issued its findings on the case for water metering exposes the reality that the committee system is a sham.