Thousands take to the streets of Dublin in anti-water charges protest

Oireachtas is the National Parliament of Ireland. A committee of the Oireachtas has been looking into the issue of water charges. Raising money from water charges was a condition imposed on Ireland by the EU-IMF-ECB troika as part of the country's bailout in 2010 after the economic crisis. The introduction of such charges as an austerity measure was very unpopular. It led to nationwide protests, the prevention of contractors installing water meters and the boycott of paying charges. The scale of opposition made it obvious that these charges could not be implemented.

Opposition to water-charges was seen as a significant factor in the Irish General Election results of 2016. Following the election the governing party Fine Gael lost 26 seats, although remained the largest party in the Dáil. The Labour Party, which had been the junior party in a coalition government with Fine Gael fell from 37 seats to just seven deputies, its lowest-ever share of Dáil seats. Now an Oireachtas committee report into the whole issue of water-charges has recommended scrapping the charges and allowing refunds. The report is due for publication on Tuesday and the Dáil must vote on the committee's recommendations within one month.

In a desperate attempt to save face on the failed water-charge policy Fine Gael is trying to get water-charges implemented by another name. They want to introduce some kind of charging system for people who use what they describe as excessive water. Not least in doing this is their motivation that popular mass movements of the people, in opposition to government policy, should not be seen to succeed. However, the consensus is that, albeit with some amendments, the recommendations of the committee will be adopted. If Fine Gael dig in their heals it could well result in another Irish General Election being called.

It was support for the Oireachtas Committee recommendations calling for scrapping the charges and allowing refunds that brought thousands of demonstrators back out on to the streets of Dublin on Saturday 8th April. Sinn Féin's Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald told the crowd that the Government should acknowledge they lost on the issue of water charges and "we won". To add fuel to the fire it has now emerged in a newspaper report in the Irish Independent that 675 employees of Irish Water received bonus payments of an average of almost €5,000 last month. This is the body created in 2015, with the responsibility for providing water and wastewater services. The intention being that the company would be funded through direct billing. Ongoing concerns about the company including the scale of non-payment issues have led to mounting calls for the organisation to be dissolved. 


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