By Councillor Mick Barry
The mass boycott of water charges is still very much in place as the General Election draws closer.
As “The Socialist” goes to press news is pending on the boycott statistics for the second round of bills but whether the figure goes up or down it is abundantly clear that huge numbers are still refusing to pay.
Solid bedrock of non-payment
If the numbers go up, particularly if they go up by a significant amount, it could create a mood for a “final push” to dump the charges, dump austerity and dump the austerity government.
But even if the numbers go down by a certain amount – perhaps on the basis of landlord pressure and Irish Water’s threatening messages to vulnerable people – there will be a solid bedrock of non-payment which can play a key role in sinking this government at the General Election.
High levels of non-payment; the emergence of water as a key issue in a General Election campaign; a real kick against the establishment parties on the issue on the doorsteps in an election campaign and the election of a whole batch of new anti-austerity and anti-water charges TDs can combine to put any new government under fierce pressure to abolish not just the charges but Irish Water itself.
Irish Water’s desperate tactics
Irish Water have resorted to a whole array of desperation tactics to try and save the sinking ship in recent weeks: threatening letters, text messages, and the release of dodgy statistics.
They issued a claim that 100,000 people had paid up after the massive 57% non-payment of the first bill and tried to give the clear impression that 51% had paid the second bill. There may well have been 100,000 extra payers after the release of the payment / non-payment stats for the first bill but contrary to the intended impression this represented, at least in part, late payment for the first bill rather than an 8% jump in payment for the second bill over the first bill.
Instead, there is a clear “churn” in relation to payment/non-payment with some vulnerable people feeling forced to pay but others who eluctantly paid the first bill taking confidence from the successes of the boycott and refusing to pay the second. This is reflected in reports indicating a 19% cancellation rate on Irish Water direct debits.
Irish water can sink Irish water
The release of the dodgy IW statistics was followed by the release of an Irish Times/MRBI poll which indicated that 78% of households had either paid or intended to pay. But a closer study of this poll actually showed that more than 42% of those polled were currently boycotting and that nearly a quarter of those polled were basically saying that they would never pay even if hell were to freeze over.
Enda Kenny famously said that “it’s not just about water”. That’s entirely right. The anti-water charges fightback has also been about opposition to the austerity agenda that has been placed on our shoulders for more than seven years now. With the boycott remaining significant and strong, opposition to the water charges and austerity remains a nightmare for the Government as the clock ticks down to a General Election.