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éirígí Water Meter Sabotage Video Launched

20/02/13

éirígí has produced a new information video as part of its campaign of opposition to the introduction of a new domestic water tax in the Twenty-Six Counties. The video demonstrates a simple and very effective method of sabotaging ‘water-meter-ready’ stopcock chambers. Once the process is completed it becomes impossible to fit a water meter in the chamber. Below the video are some answers to the most frequently asked questions that are asked in relation to the proposed new domestic water tax.

Won’t the new water tax significantly reduce water use?
Not really. Domestic users account for just 16% of water use in the Twenty-Six Counties, with agriculture and industry accounting for the remaining 84%. So if the introduction of water taxes caused a 20% drop in domestic water use that would equate to a mere 3% drop in total water use – hardly the dramatic reduction that the pro-water tax lobby claim.

It should also be noted that at least 40% of the treated water that is produced by the local authorities is lost through leaks in the antiquated water pipe network.

Don’t people in countries with water taxes use dramatically less water?
No, predicted reductions in water use following the introduction of water taxes are actually quite modest. For example in Germany, where all water is metered and taxed, the average person uses about 121 litres of water per day, while the equivalent figure in the Twenty-Six Counties is estimated to be between 150 and 160 litres. So the new water tax might (and it is a very big might) reduce domestic water consumption by about 20%, which amounts to about 3% of the total water consumption. It is entirely possible that similar or greater reductions in water use could be achieved through education and other relatively low-cost water saving measures.

But there are other environmental benefits from water meters and taxes, aren’t there?
Those who support the introduction of water taxes cynically use the ‘benefit to the environment’ argument to attract the support of those who genuinely care about our natural environment. But they never mention the full environmental cost of installing and maintaining over a million water meters.

How much metal and plastic will have to be used to manufacture all of these new water meters and associated fittings? How much energy will be used in the manufacture and transportation of these water meters and associated fittings? How much energy will have to be used to install these meters and associated fittings outside every dwelling in the state?

In truth the installation and maintenance of over a million water meters will consume vast amounts of the world’s limited natural resources for little or no environmental benefit.

At best, all of these finite natural resources are to be used to reduce the consumption of another natural resource by just 3%!

The situation becomes even more ridiculous when one considers the fact that these finite natural resources are being sacrificed to reduce consumption of a natural resource that is virtually infinite in Ireland, where just 2% of the country’s water reserves are used for human use. In truth water taxes are being introduced, not to protect the environment, but to bring water resources and supplies under the control of the private sector and the ‘free’ market.

If water taxes aren’t going to have a major environmental benefit, why are the Dublin government so intent on introducing them?
The introduction of water taxes has always had much more to do with right-wing ideology than genuine concern for the environment. Right wingers are fundamentally opposed to the idea of collective ownership of natural resources, believing instead that such resources should be sold off to the highest bidder. The introduction of water taxes must be seen in this context – as a first step on the road to the ultimate privatisation of water services and water resources.

For more than twenty years the political establishment in the Twenty-Six Counties has been attempting to introduce domestic water charges, but these efforts have been consistently thwarted by popular opinion. That establishment now believes that the current economic crisis allows it the necessary leverage to finally introduce water taxes. Like right wingers all across the world they intend to use the ‘shock’ of the current crises to railroad through policies that would not be accepted in times of non-crisis.

It costs a lot of money to treat and transport water to domestic users. Why should people expect to get it for free?
Nobody expects to get clean, safe, drinking water for free and they never have. Under the current system the population of the Twenty-Six Counties collectively pay for their water through direct and indirect taxation. Everyone that pays income tax, VAT, road tax, excise duty or any other form of taxation is contributing to the funding of the water service. While the current system may not be perfect it is far superior to one that will ultimately lead to the privatisation of the nation’s water resources and services.

Is water metering not fairer because you only pay for the water that you use?
No, water metering is actually less fair than the current system and if water taxes are introduced they will ultimately lead to greater inequality in our society. Under the current system the wealthier sections of society pay proportionally more in direct taxation than the poorer sections of society. And a portion of these monies are used to help fund water services.

If water taxes are introduced everyone will end up paying the same for a litre of water, meaning that the rich will end up relatively richer and the poor will end up relatively poorer. And when the water service is privatised the situation will only get worse when the corporations inevitably ratchet up the price of water.

Tell me more about the éirígí ‘water-meter sabotage’ video. What is a stopcock valve?
In plain language a ‘stopcock valve’ is a tap which can be used to restrict the flow of water through a pipe. The vast majority of Irish houses have two stopcock valves, one of which is located inside the house (often under the kitchen sink) and one of which is located outside the property. External stopcock valves are usually located in a small ‘stopcock chamber’ which can be found beneath a metal or plastic access lid marked ‘Uisce’, ‘Water’ or ‘SV’.

What is a ‘Water-Meter-Ready’ Stopcock Chamber?
A ‘water-meter-ready’ stopcock chamber is a chamber that has been modified to accommodate a water meter. Many thousands of such chambers have already been installed outside homes across the Twenty-Six Counties in preparation for the introduction of water metering and water taxes. The éirígí video is aimed at households that already have a ‘water-meter-ready’ stopcock chambers installed.

Stopcock chamber without and with water meter

How can I prevent a water meter being fitted outside my house?
The éirígí video above shows a step-by-step method of preventing a water meter from being installed in a ‘water-meter-ready’ stopcock chamber. The first step involves the insertion of a suitable plastic pipe around the stopcock valve. The pipe needs to be wide enough to allow the operation of the stopcock valve – in other words it has to be wide enough for someone to insert their hand to open and close the tap.

Once the pipe is in place concrete is poured around the pipe covering the connection point where a water meter would be fitted. Once the concrete hardens it becomes impossible for a water meter to be fitted without the removal of the entire stopcock chamber.

Is it not illegal to interfere with water infrastructure in this way?
Possibly, but if it is now ‘illegal’ to protect your family’s access to clean drinking water then maybe it’s time to start asking questions about whose interests the ‘law’ actually serves and on what occasions is it acceptable to break the ‘law’.

In 2008 it was perfectly ‘legal’ for Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to inflict the private bank bailout on the parents and grandparents of the current generation. And in early 2013 it was totally ‘legal’ for Fine Gael and Labour to extend that infliction onto the children and grandchildren of the current generation. Just because something is ‘legal’ that doesn’t make it right, fair or just.

Throughout Ireland’s long history of struggle people have made their own judgements as to when it is appropriate to break an unjust ‘law’. Would anyone condemn a parent that broke the ‘law’ to access food for their children during the Great Hunger? Or the tens of thousands of workers who refused to obey the ‘law’ during the 1913 Lockout? Or the child victims that ‘illegally’ escaped from the industrial schools? Or the millions who supported the establishment of the ‘illegal’ Dáil Éireann in 1919? Or the thousands who joined the ‘illegal’ march on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972? Or the more than half a million families that continue to break the ‘law’ by not paying Phil Hogan’s ‘€100 household charge’?

The hardships that millions of Irish people face today are not new and they should come as no surprise to anybody. Much as the political establishment and the state and private media would like to pretend otherwise, the struggle that people face today is a direct continuum of the struggle that the Irish working class has been fighting for centuries. The austerity war that is being waged by the rich and powerful today is the same war that was waged by William Martin Murphy and his political allies a century ago.

The new water tax and the wider austerity programme can and must be defeated. The people of Ireland currently face a choice that many of their parents, grandparents and previous ancestors faced. And that choice is very stark – to live on their knees through decades of debt and penury or to stand up and fight for the most basic of rights, like the right to employment, the right to housing, the right to healthcare, the right to education and the right to clean drinking water. And if the unjust ‘laws’ that protect the rich need to be broken to win those rights; then so be it.

 

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