DUBLIN — At the start of October, the Republic of Ireland introduced a statewide program that would charge residents for water use for the first time ever. A condition of accepting the international financial bailout deal, the plan has drawn widespread criticism from the Irish public.
As a part of the Right2Water Campaign, nearly 100 protests have broken out since the scheme began, becoming one of the largest protests in Ireland since the 2008 financial crisis.
On November 1, the Irish state broadcaster, RTÉ, estimated approximately 120,000 people took to the streets in 80 different locations. Dublin featured about 20 protests, with a crowd of 10,000 gathering outside the General Post Office building in the city center.
The charges are expected to cost each household approximately 500 euros ($623.11) each year. Many of the protesters object to the charges not because of the amount that is being demanded but rather on principle.
Forty-four-year-old Suzzane Daly has already spoken to her mother about taking care of her three children if she is jailed for preventing Irish Water Installation teams from installing a meter by her house.
She told the BBC, “We accepted austerity cuts, a property tax and new social charges as our government did what the EU and the IMF told them to do. But people are finally resisting. The fighting Irish spirit is back.”
Another mother, Vicky Donnelly, has reached the extent of her budget and the addition of a water tax will add an enormous burden. She has chosen to support mass peaceful civil disobedience against the tax.
Dette Mcloughlin referred to another incident that occurred in Galway city, which drew thousands of protesters, in conjunction with the water charges, may have created extra anger that has fueled the protest. For almost a year, people in the city had been unable to drink the tap water because there was the cryptosporidium bug in the supply.
She said, “So many people in Galway have no confidence in the water supply still and instead prefer to buy bottled water. So it annoys people even more now that the government is asking us to pay for it.”
While the first bill is expected to come in the beginning of 2015, the overwhelming response, which has threatened the ruling Fine Gael-Labor Coalition, has left the coalition scrambling to provide rapid temporary relief from the charges.
Ged Nash, a junior minister at the Irish Department of Jobs Enterprise and Innovation, has admitted that mistakes were made and that the government would respond to the public outcry against the changes to the “very important public utility.”
The public uproar against the water scheme is reminiscent of other similar outcries that emerged with countrywide water changes, such as Bolivia and Uruguay. While not quite allowing the privatization of water, the water tax has evoked a similar response from the Irish population, causing the government to backpedal upon its decision. Government altercations with water appear to be one of the few issues that arouse widespread public outcry, ultimately resulting in change.
– William Ying