Boycotting water charges – “not the Sinn Féin position”

By Laura Fitzgerald

When Anti Austerity Alliance and Socialist Party TDs proposed a motion in the Dáil for a massive boycott to force the abolition of water charges, this is how Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, responded:

“[T]he motion also calls for a boycott of water charge bills by householders. This is not the Sinn Féin position. We will support those who cannot pay and those who have decided not to pay. However… we do not call for a boycott. We have adopted this position for a very good reason. We have seen in the past, both North and South, the folly of political leaders advising householders not to pay certain taxes, however unjust, and subsequently being unable to defend the same citizens when governments drag people through the courts…”

Thinly veiled scaremongering

Here it is in plain English – Sinn Féin refuses to call for and support a mass boycott of the water charges, despite the fact that it’s the single most effective tactic to ensure victory for the anti-water charges struggle. It’s meaningless to say a political party will support individuals who can’t / won’t pay, while simultaneously opposing a boycott. Refusing to pay an unjust charge as an individual, while admirable, is futile unless it’s part of an organised campaign of united resistance – a highly organised and crucially, a mass boycott.

Gerry Adam’s thinly-veiled scaremongering (his mentioning of court dates and defeats of the past) must be countered with the facts – that if we build a big enough boycott, no amount of courts would be enough to break the movement; and that in any case, penalties won’t kick in until next year after a general election!

A weak opposition to water charges

Sinn Fein’s opposition to water charges is weak. In an interview on Morning Ireland (11 September 2014), Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said that abolition of Water Charges was not a “red line issue” for Sinn Féin in entering a coalition government. The anti-wnon-payment movement, through Paul Murphy and the Anti Austerity Alliance’s successful Dublin South West By Election challenge, forced Sinn Fein to back-pedal on this.

In October, Gerry Adams, Pearse Doherty and Mary-Lou McDonald cited their intention to pay their own water charges. By November, these three most prominent Sinn Fein TDs experienced a change of heart, and said they would not pay. And lastly, Sinn Fein has also u-turned on their previous position which was to keep Irish Water intact. Sinn Fein at best stands parallel to the actual water charges struggle. Those who are building non-payment need their own political voice and a broad slate of candidates of their own for the general election.