Invest in water infrastructure, not metering

The government is spending €539 million on construction crews digging up concrete pavements all over the country to install water meters outside every home. At the same time the capital city is suffering crippling water shortages because there hasn’t been enough investment in production plants that could store sufficient treated water to cover periodic problems that inevitably arise such as the current difficulties from the variation in the available water’s chemical properties.

At first glance this might appear to arise from sheer incompetence or idiocy. While there may be elements of both at play, much more fundamentally represented here is the ideological bent of this Fine Gael/Labour government. Its priority is to implement a new water tax on ordinary householders as part of the deal with the Troika to continue the bailout of bankers and bondholders at the expense of society in general.

It’s obvious that water infrastructure desperately needs increased investment. On the one hand, this is to deal with the incredible situation that up to 40% of water treated by local authorities leaks into the ground due to the poor pipe network. But in light of the current crisis in Dublin it is obviously urgent to construct new capacity capable of producing and storing amounts of water that would  be able to deal with emergency situations.

The drive to install domestic water meters in no way deals with any of these urgent issues. It diverts resources from real solutions to the presenting problems. In Britain the authorities plan to achieve, through metering, a daily per person usage that will be only 7.5% less than the current usage in Dublin. If the same applied in Ireland, it would only represent a national water saving level of about 3%. That figure is dwarfed by the astounding 50% loss through leakage in many local authorities.

The other unspoken agenda of the government in getting water meters installed and charges in place is to commodify our domestic water supply as a preparation for selling off the service to private companies in the future. This is how the privatisation of the domestic refuse collection service was engineered. Now virtually the entire waste service is in the hands of private, for profit, companies. This is entirely consistent with the constant pressure coming from the European Union over the last two decades for the liberalisation and privatisation of services in line with the neo-liberal and right wing economic stance of the Commission and most Member State governments.

This government grows more arrogant by the week. That is quite clear from the diktat of the Revenue Commissioners that householders who opt to pay their property tax for 1914in one amount by credit card or cheque have to pay it this year – by November 27 in fact.  This represents a hard faced attitude from Revenue in contrast to the sweet noises they were attempting to make earlier this year. When they were trying to assuage the huge anger among ordinary taxpayers over this new austerity burden they adopted a demeanour of reasonableness personified. Seeing the lack of confidence among many angry householders to  mount a massive boycott of the home tax, Revenue can now more brutally represent the real face of the austerity policy of the government.

It is quite pathetic to hear complaints from Labour’s Dail deputies in recent days over this issue. As pathetic as Fine Gael deputies complaints over the rising price of homes in Dublin putting a bigger property tax burden on householders in the capital. The hardship which the raft of new taxes will mean for the hard pressed low and middle income earners was well hammered out before these deputies voted for them.

Both water charges and the home tax will become increasingly aggravating issues for the government parties as 2014 opens. There will be a rising sense of the injustice of these new impositions as  they blend with the effects of the recently announced Budget. The Local and European Parliament elections to be held in May will focus minds on how Labour and Fine Gael promised so much before the General Election only to cruelly betray those who believed in them. Their candidates can expect widespread retribution from an electorate that dealt harshly  with Fianna Fail and the Green Party at the last election for having started the bondholder bailout process with the savage austerity for ordinary people that this involved.

There is much noise over the planned exit of the State from the three year Troika programme. Government Ministers are anticipating being widely lionised by the European establishment for engineering a ‘successful’ conclusion to the programme. This is grotesque considering the enormous suffering inflicted by the austerity agenda – all to save the European financial markets system. The water tax, the property tax and the many other burdens will ensure that the vast majority of our people will not join the cheerleading.