10 Dec 2014

Thousands on streets as Irish water charges unrest grows

Gardaí police estimate that over 30,000 people attend a protest against the introduction of water charges in the Republic of Ireland.

protesters and police

Organisers estimated the attendance at closer to 100,000 people. Gardaí police say that two people have been arrested for public order offences. One Garda has reportedly been taken to hospital with facial injuries.

Ireland has until now funded water supplies through general taxation. But as part of austerity measures to help Ireland repay its 2010 international bailout, the government has set up a company to charge for water use.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition says more money is needed for investment in water pipes and infrastructure, and the alternative to water charges would be higher taxes.

The proposals, due to be introduced on January 1, have seen country-wide protests against what is seen as a double taxation on water.

Wednesday’s protest was timed coincide with Human Rights Day, and was expected to be the biggest yet.

What the Government has done is not good enough. The Government has to scrap water charges. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams addressed the crowd and said that the water charges needed to be scrapped.

“I want to commend every single person here. You have been able to stand for yourselves but for s scores of thousands of people who have not been able to be here this day,” he said.

In July 2013, the government set up Irish Water, a new company responsible for the operation and management of water services. When the company began installing meters earlier this year, communities began organising rallies as part of the We Won’t Pay campaign.

‘Human need’

Writing in the Irish Times, anti-austerity alliance TD Paul Murphy said the protests were the biggest for 30 years.

“There is now a widespread understanding that water charges at any rate are unacceptable. They represent the commodification of a vital human need,” he said.
“From 2019, a family would face an average bill of about €200 per adult.”

Ahead of the protests, minister for the environment Alan Kelly insisted the charges are necessary.

“I don’t envisage anything changing. This is completely necessary. I don’t envisage anything changing in relation to the package at all,” he said.

Mr Kelly said charges would be capped at 160 euros (£128) for single adult households and 260 euros (£208) for others.