The proposal by the government and Irish Water to install millions of water meters on homes is reactionary and profit-driven and has nothing to do with water conservation. Meters will facilitate the charging of individuals / families for the use of a basic necessity, currently paid for through central taxation.
Thus, homeowners have every right to oppose and resist the installation of these meters and the introduction of water charges.
Water meters have been found to reduce consumption by only an average of 10%, as there simply is not the profligate wasting of water by householders which is often claimed. Without argument, the most effective way to reduce use of water is to stop leakage and the rate of ‘unaccounted for water’, which is up to 40% in many parts of Ireland. This can be done by investment in upgrading and repairing water pipes, which could also create thousands of jobs.
The installation of meters for more than one million homes will cost €539 million. This sum could be used to upgrade water infrastructure.
Irish Water has outlined a list of areas where metering will take place in the next three months. Work will begin in Kildare in August, concentrating on the towns of Maynooth, Leixlip and Celbridge.
Households connected to the public mains in Kerry, Meath and Wexford are set for September, while meters should be installed in Dublin City, Limerick and Mayo and Fingal from October.
Notice of two weeks is to be given of installation. Any area where a campaign or group exists should call a public meeting during this time to see what is the attitude and response of the community. Installation can only be organised against if local communities are willing and determined to mobilise to do so. A small group of campaigners cannot substitute themselves, nor is a mobile crew traveling the country an option.
People from the communities affected would need to be willing to step forward and form a rota to react when the diggers and machinery come to a local area.
If metering is interfered with, the state will have two options. The first is to resort to the courts, as it did with the direct action organised in Fingal ten years ago against bin charges. Injunctions could be sought to prevent residents from inhibiting installers, with people called to court and asked to give undertakings to desist. Refusal to give such undertakings led to the jailing of 22 residents in Dublin that year, including Joe Higgins TD and (then) Cllr Clare Daly.
The second option — and probably more likely given that the establishment has shown it would prefer to avoid court cases — is to simply issue the householder who is refusing a meter with a flat rate bill, which could well be higher than the metered rate.
Only mass direct action and large meetings of the community could build the kind of intense pressure on the politicians needed to force postponement or cancellation of meter installation.
In the South Dublin County Council area in 1994 the Federation of Anti Water Charges Campaigns fought disconnections of water supplies of non payers. The battle waged for a week but was successful in knocking back the disconnection plan.
This time, of course, water charges and metering is a Troika-backed project which the establishment is very committed to. It is also quite likely that if meters are blocked or tampered with, Irish Water may simply declare that those homes will be issued with a more costly flat rate water bills or without a so-called ‘free’ allocation.
Thus, the battle against the water meters is only one part of the equation. Even if meters are stopped, the politicians could say they have to resort to flat rate bills as they planned to impose in the past. This opens up the potential once again for advocating mass non-payment of the charges, which will be levied by Irish Water, not by Revenue. This means a political campaign against water charges is extremely important which would aim to force the parties to withdraw the charges, as they had to do before.
The anti-austerity electoral challenge being put together from a number of CAHWT campaign groups can play a significant role in undermining water charges. The challenge of a whole number of candidates and the election of councillors on an anti-water charges platform would send a powerful signal to the political parties backing the charges about the strength of public feeling on this issue. Water charges are, of course, yet another austerity measure and one which Labour, in particular, is on the record as opposing less than three years ago.
With the crisis in Labour deepening as defections mount, and with austerity biting harder into families, opposition to metering and to water charges generally can become a major political issue