As the country considers the water charges signed off by the Government this week, a campaign of civil disobedience is already being planned and could see Galway householders following in the footsteps of protestors in Cork and Dublin by blocking attempts to install meters or refusing to pay the water bill.
After months of speculation the Government coalition finally came to an agreement announcing that family households will pay an average of €248 per year. Fine Gael and Labour also agreed to abolish the standing charge of €50 per year, to provide low-income groups like pensioners, carers, and the disabled with €100 towards the annual bill, give a rebate to householders after meter installation if consumption is below the amount charged via estimate, and carry out faster meter installation with the bulk of homes done by mid-2016 - six months earlier than previously planned. Homeowners generally will also get a 30,000 litres per year allowance and children under 18 will get a further 38,000 litres per year allowance. Charges will start from October 1 next with the first quarterly bill issued in January 2015.
It is anticipated that meter installation will commence in both Galway county (33,000 meters in phase one) and Galway city (24,000 in phase one) in the second half of 2015 and will be completed by mid-2016.
However, this week’s announcement may not be enough to prevent an already disgruntled public in Galway from defying the Government.
According to Conor Burke of Anti Austerity Alliance Galway a campaign to axe the water tax will soon be launched, encouraging the Galway public to prevent meters being installed or not to pay the bill. Mr Burke warned that after two years the average household charge will increase, like other charges, as the Government seeks to cover the full €1.2 billion cost of maintaining water infrastructure.
Mr Burke said: “It’s absolutely crazy. They are putting €500,000 into metering when we’re losing 40 per cent of our water. Conservation should be the first area to invest in. But that isn’t their real agenda, they want to commodify water. They are going to increase the cost significantly when ordinary householders are already struggling.
“With the household tax there was a massive backlash in the city. Irish Water have no real authority. The Government have threatened that they will turn down the water pressure if bills are not paid, but we will help people re-engage the pressure. It will come down to a stand-off between Government and the people. People are pushed hard enough, you can only push them so far before they take a stand. This issue is really striking a chord and there is mass militancy around Galway and the country.”
The issue of how the Government intends to charge Galway households that will not be fitted with water meters in time is also of concern to Fianna Fáil election candidate in Loughrea, Anne Rabbitte. Noting that only a third of households will be fitted with meters by the end of this year, Ms Rabbitte said:
“It seems that the Government intends to slap water charges on these unmetered households in a deeply unfair manner.” Ms Rabbitte said the Government had failed to adequately answer questions posed by Fianna Fáil regarding a report into unmetered areas, in particular “when unmetered households in Galway will know exactly how much they are forced to pay”.
Galway West senator Fidelma Healy Eames has also slammed the water charges as being “unjustified”, with middle income families again taking the hit. She described the political deal as being “designed to save Labour’s skin” and warned that Fine Gael and Labour could lose heavily in the Local and European elections.
Coming out in support of the agreement reached on water charges, was Labour candidate for Galway City Central ward, John McDonagh, who said this week that the decision to drop the standing charge and the measures to help vulnerable groups will help ease the pressure on many householders in Galway. Mr McDonagh added that his party “fought hard to ensure that the standing charge, ability-to-pay, and adequate metering were taken into consideration” and that the package agreed was “fair and reasonable”.