I dropped by The Raccoon Arms yesterday.
I have been a visitor to that hallowed establishment for a long time but I don’t think I have ever commented there.
Yesterday however, Anna turned her attention to the Irish Water business. The arguments put forward by her readers generally followed the lines that water metering is a good thing as it prevents waste, and that the Irish shouldn’t be complaining about paying for a service they have received for nothing up until now.
On the face of it, that sounds like a reasonable comment but there are quite a few points I would like to make, and rather than clutter up the Raccoon Arms with my musing I thought I would put them here. After all, if that is Anna’s reader's attitude it is also likely to be the attitude of a lot of others, including non-Raccoonites.
First of all, let’s put to rest this idea that we have been receiving our supplies for free up until now. This is a common misconception and is a nice little sound bite for those who demand we accept meters. Up until now our water supplies have been paid for through taxation just as our taxes pay for roads, street lighting and other such “free” services. If they announced that they were transferring that portion of taxation to water metering, that would be fair enough, but they are not – they are introducing water metering in addition to the taxes which will not be correspondingly reduced. This is an additional burden on top of the many taxes that we already have to bear.
Another little problem is that this new tax will presumably be classed as a “charge” or “utility bill” and will therefore be subject to taxation and VAT? So we now have to pay tax and VAT on tax?
I have no problem with the concept of metering to conserve resources. However we are constantly told about the amount of wastage in the system and by implication that metering will solve this. It won’t. The vast majority of leakage and waste is in the system itself long before the water gets to the household. In some regions leakage through faulty mains runs as high as sixty or seventy percent as a result of decades of neglect and misappropriation of taxation. Metering domestic supplies will have no effect on this whatsoever.
Then there is the problem with the company itself. Irish Water has been set up as essentially a private company. Like the other utility companies it can be sold off at any time by the government. Yet this company demands that we supply such information as our banking details and out PPS [Social Security?] number which is for revenue purposes only and by law cannot be demanded by a private company. There is widespread fear that this information can be sold off to the highest bidder, and that if the company were sold, that information would automatically transfer to the new owner. Incidentally, their computer system failed on the very first day of operation and they have already managed to post over six thousand personal details to the wrong addresses so it’s money well spent?
As an aside, the setup of Irish Water has so far cost somewhere in the region of a billion [yup – a thousand million to set up a company], a fair chunk of which has come out of the National Pension Reserves. This is before a single cent has been billed from the public. And already they are planning to give themselves bonuses of up to 15% of their salaries? Why couldn’t they just have used this money to upgrade a significant part of the water infrastructure?
Water is a unique utility. There are alternative methods for heating, lighting and cooking but there is no alternative to water. Anna mentions the prospect of drilling a private well but this is not only very expensive [despite some grants] but is also out of the question for the vast majority of households.
Since the bailout, Ireland has had to endure years of cutbacks, reductions in salaries [and pensions] and general misery. While the Greeks rioted, the Irish bit their tongues. Then we are told that as a condition of accepting the bailout we have to introduce water billing. Yes – the EU demanded it. Bear in mind that this is on top of a new “house tax” which was introduced last year, running to many hundreds of euros and you may understand why this water charge is seen as the last straw. We are constantly being told that “Ireland is now on the road to recovery” yet they are intend on burdening us with yet more taxation.
We have had enough.