New bill calls for referendum on water ownership

The bill is supported by 39 TDs - including Sinn Féin, the AAA/PBP and Independents

New bill calls for referendum on water ownership

Joan Collins TD at a protest in 2012 | Image: RollingNews.ie

Dublin TD Joan Collins TD has launched a bill, calling for a referendum to put the public ownership of water into the Irish Constitution.

The 35th Amendment to the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership Bill 2016) reads: "The Government shall be collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system. The Government shall ensure in the public interest that this resource remains in public ownership and management."

Speaking about the bill, Dublin South-Central Deputy Collins said: "There has been deep concern about the prospect of water privatisation in Ireland in recent years.

"I believe it is time to give the people of this country a guarantee that their water and its management will remain in public hands."

The bill is supported by 39 TDs - including Sinn Féin, the AAA/PBP and Independents - as well as the Right2Water campaign and affiliated trade unions.

Ms Collins says this places particular focus on the position of Fianna Fáil, whose votes could secure the bill's passage, and the Independent Alliance - which could be crucial if Fianna Fáil were to abstain.

She has called for these groups to "reflect widespread public feeling" as well as "their own public statements" by voting for the bill on Wednesday.

"Disastrous impact" of privatisation

John Douglas, general-secretary of Mandate trade union said it "has long been the opinion of the trade union movement that the introduction of water charges paved the way to privatisation, as was the case with the bin charges in recent years."

He said that a constitutional guarantee of public ownership would "protect water not only from future governments but from the pressure of European and international institutions which have a track record of supporting privatisation."

Right2Water's Brendan Ogle added: "Countless international examples showed the disastrous impact of water privatisation on communities."

"In Detroit, Michigan, more than 70,000 people have had their water shut off, with similar processes occurring in Paris and Rome. Closer to home, more than one in five people in Britain now live in water poverty as fees are hiked up by private companies to prices families can’t afford.

"It is vital that Ireland does not become the latest casualty of this drive to turn an essential resource into a commodity."

And Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin TD said the party had "long campaigned for the public ownership of water to be enshrined in the constitution” and that “this is the best possible way to ensure that water remains a public good that can not be sold off to the highest bidder."