"Water is the new oil" - Government debates public ownership of water services

The debate could lead to referendum on the public ownership of Ireland's water services

"Water is the new oil" - Government debates public ownership of water services

Drinking water is poured into a glass in Cologne, Germany | Image: Oliver Berg/DPA/PA Images

An independent TD has described a bill under discussion in Leinster House this morning as “one of the most crucial parts of the campaign for the right to water.”

The bill – put forward by Independents 4 Change TD Joan Collins – calls for a national referendum on the public ownership of Ireland’s water services.

If accepted, the public will be asked to vote on an amendment to the constitution that would ensure Ireland’s water services remain in public ownership – and make the government collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the system.

The bill has the support of both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin - while Fine Gael have agreed not to oppose it.

Water is the new oil

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Deputy Collins said that “water is the new oil” and warned that privatisation could leave ordinary families facing the prospect of having their supply cut off.

"The history of privatisation of water in other countries has meant for many people – many families throughout the world – they have been subjected to water poverty, they've had their water cut off because they can’t afford to pay for it,” she said. “It has happened in the United States, in Italy and other countries.”

"Particularly when you look at what happened to us during the collapse of the economy - when the Troika came in - if Irish Water had been set up and if there was water meters in the ground, I have absolutely no doubt that the Troika would have insisted that our water be privatised.”

She pointed out that The UN voted in 2010 to make water a human right – adding that increased scarcity and demand over the coming years will only make it more crucial to ensure that public ownership is protected within the constitution.

Water scarcity

“Water is the new oil as far as an awful lot of these private companies are concerned,” she said. “There is a grab for water all over the world.”

“It is going to become very essential into the future; it could become very scarce.

"We believe that, on the issue of human right to water, it is critical that it is put into the constitution and also that the Government sign up to a level of maintenance and management of our water."

Oireachtas debate

During the debate this morning, the Committee heard there would be no legal obstacle to a referendum.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on housing, Eoin Ó Broin said there is no reason to delay a referendum when the proposal has widespread support.

"Those of us who sat through the 11 or 12 weeks of the water committee; there was a lot of things we didn't agree on, but this was actually one of issues in terms of the core principles behind this bill that we ended up reaching agreement on."

“We wanted to see such a constitutional protection – whatever the eventual wording.”

You can listen back to Deputy Collins' full conversation on Newstalk Breakfast here: