Donegal County Council have supported a motion opposing the introduction of domestic water charges, following a wide-ranging discussion of water issues the county faces.
Sinn Féin Cllr. Jack Murray, who brought forward the motion at Monday’s council meeting, said water “is recognised as a basic human right”, and said the central taxation system is the only appropriate funding mechanism for domestic water.
“People cannot afford another charge on top of the money they are already forking out,” Cllr. Murray said, adding that people are already struggling with levies, the Universal Social Charge, PRSI, fuel and mortgage increases, “all on top of absolutely brutal pay cuts and hours being cut back in their precarious jobs.”
The councillor said he recognised the expense of water treatment. But he said the system must be funded through public tax revenue, and operational responsibility for water production, treatment and distribution must remain with local authorities.
“They must remain within full public ownership,” he said. “This is not a resource that we can take chances with.” The councillor’s lengthy motion addressed several issues, including a condemnation of the lack of investment in water infrastructure, a rejection of what he called “creeping privatisation” of water services; and promotion of an all-Ireland water and sewerage authority to address water quality.
Fianna Fáil Cllr. Patrick McGowan seconded the motion and Fianna Fáil Cllr. Ciaran Brogan also supported it, saying he did not favour the privatisation of water services. Both councillors said there was potential for an all-Ireland authority.
Councillors said the news of government plans for possible septic tank licensing made the motion particularly timely for a rural county like Donegal. Some also said the amount of water lost through pipe leaks must be addressed in light of potential domestic rates.
Fianna Fáil Cllr. Seamus Ó Domhnaill said the council should write to the minister and “implore him” to allocate money for pipe works. “Our motto is polluter pays,” Cllr. Ó Domhnaill said. “But there’s no point in charging people for water unless the pipe network and infrastructure is in place.”
Joe Peoples, acting council director of service for water, environment and emergency services, said that in 2010 the council reported “unaccounted for” water at 53 percent, up from 45 percent in 2009. He said the council has implemented processes under the water conservation programme to monitor water systems in real-time and to narrow search areas when bursts are identified. A county-wide survey of the network will be completed shortly to identify priority areas for further investment under the water conservation programme, he said.
“Water being lost in the network is treated water, and I don’t think we should lose sight of that,” Fianna Fáil Cllr. Gerry Crawford said. He said that if government is requiring local authorities to impose water charges, “serious efforts should be made for infrastructure”.
Similarly, Fine Gael Cllr. Bernard McGuinness said he agreed with most of the motion, but wanted to know whether the council can track whether water is lost through pipe leakage or through property owners leaving taps running. “Water is going to cost money to the ordinary person no matter what,” he said, adding that he believed people should pay for the water they use.
Sinn Féin Cllr. Mick Quinn pointed to the need for “a fair taxation system where those who can afford to pay do pay, rather than the tax dodgers we have historically covered for in this country.” He added, “The people who pay the most in this country are the people who can least afford it.”
Labour Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr. said reservoirs in the Stranorlar Electoral Area were not sufficient to deal with the need and said previous councils must accept responsibility for infrastructure shortfalls. “The previous council and the previous council and the previous council have a big responsibility for infrastructure that is not in place when this council had as much money as it ever had,” he said.
Cllr. Murray said he hoped opposition to the proposed water charges from local authorities would give the minister cause to reconsider the proposal.
“We don’t have to be beholden to the market,” Cllr. Murray said. “I am asking this government to, for once, put the needs of the Irish people ahead of the wishes of private interests.”