The water charges can and must be defeated by resistance and non-payment but water, as a human right, must also be secured as a publicly owned and controlled resource universally available. Remember, we had to fight water charges in the 1980’s and again in the 1990’s so let’s make this win a permanent one.
The origin of the present water charges lies in the EUs Water Framework Directive (2000) which provided for full cost recovery for water use and whose Article 9 states:
‘Member States shall take account of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services …’
It also required Member States to have in place water-pricing policies by 2010. The Directive was transposed into Irish Law in 2003.
So, the origins of these punitive charges, this time around, are the Water Framework Directive which seeks to commodify water provision through the establishment of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services. The EU took advantage of the ‘bailout’ to make it a condition of the ‘loans’. This will open the way for the sale of Irish Water either in whole or in part, ostensibly to complete the single market or to promote competition ‘in the interests of the consumer’. This is just one reason why there is such resistance to a constitutional referendum to permanently retain Irish Water in public ownership – the other is TTIP.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is currently being concluded in secret by the EU and US. Both sides have made clear their intention to use TTIP to get access to what is described as “public monopolies;” that is, public utilities including water. These services would then be vulnerable to greater outsourcing and private tendering for service delivery and eventually, to privatisation.
TTIP would open up public procurement contracts to the private sector, meaning that social, environmental or “public good” goals in public procurement would be removed. A private monopoly can fix its price at an unaffordable level, as Bechtel did in Bolivia, leading to a popular uprising; the termination of the contract and replacement of the government.
It would also make the nationalisation (or renationalisation) of services or resources virtually impossible, as incredibly, corporations would be able to sue for loss of future and expected profits. This is facilitated by the inclusion of an (ISDS) Investor – State Dispute Settlement clause in TTIP.
The TTIP agreement increases the pressure for the privatisation of ‘services of general interest’, such as water services. Foreign suppliers of services of general interest should not be entitled to claim “forgone profits” through ISDS. This provision, in effect would further legalise neo-liberalism as the economic and social framework in Ireland and the EU.
But even if ISDS is removed from TTIP, the main goal remains; to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules, regulations on the use of toxic chemicals and digital privacy laws. The stakes could not be higher.
Public water provision is only one of the services under threat from TTIP. Both water charges and TTIP must be defeated!