Hot water — extremely heated scenes at City Hall during water charges debate

A discussion by Galway city councillors on two different motions regarding the opposition of water charges and the dissolution of Irish Water led to some ugly scenes at City Hall this week, with one Fine Gael councillor labelling the Sinn Féin party as ‘hypocrites.’

Councillor Padraig Conneelly told Sinn Féin representatives that they spoke against water charges in the context of the Government having respect for families, but their party had clearly not displayed that in the past. He then made references to historical events which took place in Northern Ireland.

The clearly irate Fine Gael representative claimed Sinn Féin had nothing to offer anybody. “These are populist motions to have a lash at the Government.”

A war of words then broke out between councillors Conneelly and Catherine Connolly. She said it “beggared belief” that this was the level of argument coming from Fine Gael. The Independent representative said she did not agree with many of Sinn Fein’s policies but could not listen to that level of ‘diatribe’ against the party

‘Bandwagon’

Councillor Connolly said she was proudly opposing water charges and had marched in both Galway and Dublin against the issue, as the charges were regressive and unfair. Fine Gael’s Pearce Flannery claimed Catherine Connolly would “jump on any bandwagon to get elected”. Councillor Flannery added a mere four per cent of the population had travelled to the Irish Water protest in Dublin but more than one million had signed up for the charges. “If we do not sort out our water, we are poisoning our children for generations to come. And you might want to do that Councillor Connolly, but I don’t. Let leave a legacy here for them.‘’

Councillor Flannery acknowledged that it was a divisive issue and the setting up of Irish Water had been a badly managed debacle, but said water was a utility which had to be paid for. “To make water safer and to bring it to a condition where it is drinkable, you must pay for it. The service must be funded, it is unfortunate but it is a fact. Nobody wants to pay another tax and I am one of those people but I can see the need for this.’’

The first motion had been brought forward by Sinn Féin councillor Mairéad Farrell appealing for ‘the council to oppose the introduction of water charges and call on the Government to reverse their decision to implement the unjust tax.’

‘Over the edge’

Councillor Farrell said it was not a question of paying for water as the public already pays for it through general taxation. “The charges being implemented are in essence just a cover for a new tax. The Government continues to press ahead with water charges while lowering tax on the higher earners. This is a tax that will push already struggling families over the edge. We are not in a position to change the Government’s austerity agenda; however, we must challenge it at every opportunity. Last Saturday we saw great numbers marching in the city, their voices need to be listened to.”

The second motion tabled by Independent representative Mike Cubbard read that ‘Galway City Council would call on the Government to dissolve Irish Water as it is nothing more than an overly funded quango and that the provision of water services should be handed back to the local authority.’

Councillor Cubbard claimed water charges were not going to provide a solution to leakage problems. “The gimmick about it being about water conservation has been well worn at this stage. We haven’t seen one pipe being fixed or an ounce of water saved yet in this country. There are no securities in place that people will not be paying between €800 and €1,000 in years to come, in water charges.’’

Businessman and Fianna Fáil councillor Ollie Crowe outlined that he had spent €1,500 a year for the past nine years on water charges, so he knew all about paying for water, but was opposing the charges as they were not income based. “I was speaking to a couple who have over €200,000 coming into their house annually. Somebody is trying to tell me they should be paying the same rate as somebody who is un-enployed. If it is not income based it is not fair, we need to have respect for people who cannot afford to pay. From the outset it has been a disaster and it is time to call a halt to it.”

‘Injection needed’

Independent representative Declan McDonnell raised the plight of the working population and asked if workers were expected to pay for everything in this country. He was opposed to the motion on the basis that the PAYE worker would be picking up the tab otherwise. “If we don’t solve the issue of water wastage, we are in big trouble. I believe it’s the right thing that everybody has to contribute to solving this problem. The middle income workers are in as bad, if not worse, a financial situation as those who are not working. Some people have no money to put food on the table, they are in that much trouble trying to pay mortgages.’’

Fellow Independent Noel Larkin said there seemed to be no solution to the problem if Irish Water was abolished. “If we don’t pay for water, we’re not going to get leaks fixed or water quality on beaches in order. We need an injection of money to solve the problem and that is what the company will provide. Yes we are all against the way Irish Water seem to spend money but I don’t think abolishing it now is the answer.”

Followng a vote, both motions were comprehensively defeated.

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