July 2016        

Our water: Demand a constitutional referendum

Eugene McCartan

The people, through organised struggle under the banner of Right2Water—by blocking meters, pickets, mass mobilisations, and non-payment—have secured an important victory with the suspension of water charges. We need to consolidate this victory with a constitutional amendment enshrining the people’s ownership and control over this vital resource.
     The continuing debacle about bin charges clearly exposed what the future would bring if they privatise water—which is the central reason for water charges in the first place.
     The strategy of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is to break the people’s resistance to these charges by pulling a stroke with their “independent commission” on water. They wish to defuse the people’s resistance and bring it into the safe arena of parliamentary debates and procedures, into structures that they control.
     Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent and protect the interests of big business. They carry out the instructions of the European Union. We have Karmenu Vella, the EU commissioner for the environment, attempting to sow confusion and division by issuing contradictory statements regarding whether or not the Irish Government has a derogation from water charges.
     Working people should not be fooled or deflected by these manoeuvrings of both the Irish establishment and the European Union regarding water charges. Their strategy was and remains to make the people pay, to commodify water, creating a market in water, thereby readying it for privatisation.
     Experience throughout the world is that water has become a very valuable source of profit for global water corporations. They are making huge profits from people’s need to have water in order to live.
     It is important that we secure a constitutional amendment on the people’s ownership of water before the EU completes its negotiations with the United States regarding TTIP. The Government has not secured the right to water, nor expressed any interest in stopping privatisation in the future. If TTIP is agreed it will prevent any future people’s ownership.
     What does privatisation mean?
• Placing all decisions about water in the hands of corporate interests, including the power to decide how and for what purposes water resources are used, now and in the future.
• Making the people’s interests secondary to the profits of corporations.
• Turning water into a commodity—an economic asset for profit-hungry corporations.
• Making water part of the growing monopoly control over supplies of natural resources, including food, water, and energy; our resources would come under attack through TTIP and other trade deals between the EU and the major western states.
• Water being financialised and becoming a commodity, to be bought and sold like all other global stock.
• Profits becoming the priority over the common good.
• Constant price increases and a deterioration in the water infrastructure.
     Water charges and privatisation would not stop at the existing municipal water system but would lead to community water schemes also being brought under the control of corporate interests.

Why we need to oppose privatisation
People’s or public ownership is the best way to manage and protect this valuable natural, life-essential resource. It guarantees fairly distributed, sustainably managed and democratically controlled water for all.
     When the private sector engages in the provision of water, greater disparities in access and cost follow.
     At least eighty-six cities and towns around the world have remunicipalised water services during the last fifteen years, proving the inefficiency and problems related to privatisation.
     Water requires huge and continuing investments in infrastructure. An estimated three-quarters of the cost of running a water utility is for infrastructure alone.
     Constant investment is required to foster safe, affordable and dependable water supplies.
     Clean and affordable water is the basis of life. Skyrocketing water prices, unsafe supply, failing infrastructure—these problems fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us.
     Support the demand to put the people’s ownership in the Constitution. Get your own local community campaign going to demand a constitutional amendment.
     Get your trade union, youth and women’s groups to support this democratic demand.
     Build on the victory in the current water struggle for the next stage in the battle to secure the people’s interests, not corporate greed.
     Sign our on-line petition at www.communistpartyofireland.ie.
     We need to get back on the streets and build a renewed campaign against these charges. In particular now we need to raise the crucial demand for a constitutional amendment. Remember that a significant number of TDs in the present Dáil campaigned for the abolition of water charges.

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