I have genuine concerns that the Government cannot be trusted when it comes to ownership and there are fears that Irish Water could be sold. The Government is out of touch with the ordinary person. The protests are not going away. For some in my constituency, it is a matter of principle not to pay for water, they feel they are already paying for it in the taxes they pay and for others it is a matter of economics, they simply cannot afford it. It should also be noted that the money paid by households will be used for admin costs, and to take fees off non-compliant households, which is an utter disgrace as all finances of Irish Water should be directed to improving the archaic infrastructure and leaks and no more.
The first obstacle to the Government holding a referendum to retain Irish Water in public ownership is the TTIP deal (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal) that the USA and the EU are trying to negotiate. Both sides have made clear their intention to use the deal to get access to what they call public monopolies, meaning public utilities like water. Under the EU’s TTIP deal, water services will be much more vulnerable to outsourcing, private tendering and, ultimately, full privatisation. It will also make it virtually impossible to nationalise or renationalise our water. Incredibly, multinational water companies will be able to sue for loss of future or expected profits in the case of nationalisation. This is because of the controversial ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement), clause. If the TTIP deal goes through, private water companies will be able to sue the Government for the loss of forgone profits if water is renationalised. The ISDS provides for a supranational kangaroo court. Opposing Irish Water on its current road is also opposing TTIP and is about keeping public goods in public hands. No one can predict the future or the future consensus of Government towards privatisation of commodities, that is why constitutional amendments is the only way to safeguard national interests of the people.
As an example of ISDS; within a few years of the Azurix Corporation taking over the water of Buenos Aires in Argentina, the water was undrinkable and unaffordable. The Argentine Government tried to force the company to make the water drinkable and affordable. Azurix objected to interference in its private business. It sued Argentina through an ISDS. The Government lost and had to pay $165.2 million in compensation! It is obvious what could be coming down the line.
The second is the EU water framework directive of 2000 which provides in Article 9 that “Member States shall take account of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services”. This is the reason the Government is so resistant to a constitutional referendum to retain Irish Water permanently in public ownership. It will open the way for the sale of Irish Water to promote competition in the so-called ‘interest’ of the consumer. When something like water is made a commodity and no longer a resource, it opens the way for privatisation. The Government can promise not to privatise water but we see that promises and guarantees do not carry over time.
There are viable alternatives. While we have our holy grail of the corporate tax rate at 12.5%, a simple 1% increase in corporation tax would not drive away foreign direct investment but could secure funding to sort out the water mess.