The great 80,000 strong Right2Water demonstration of March 21 proved beyond doubt, if proof was needed, that the anti-water charges movement has not gone away.
Now, as bills start to go out in April the main focus is going to be on the numbers refusing to pay. It is clear that if even a significant minority boycott the charge Irish Water will not be viable and the government’s whole strategy will collapse.
Hence the desperation in the government’s response= The carrot and the stick!
The government’s first approach to bringing in the charges under Phil ‘The Bully’ Hogan was threats and intimidation. ‘We’ll reduce your water to trickle’, was the message.
Faced with the massive revolt on the streets on October 11 and November 1 last year, the government the charges, changed tack and went instead for retreat and concessions.
Labour’s Alan Kelly replaced Phil Hogan who was sent off to Europe. The charges were significantly reduced and talk of cutting off water supplies was deemed ‘inappropriate’. Deadlines for registration were repeatedly revised and people were offered the ‘carrot’ of the €100 so-called ‘conservation grant’ – in reality a bribe to register.
At the same time there was a concerted effort to divide the movement by contrasting the ‘reasonable’ ‘decent’ people who marched in October and November to the ‘sinister fringe’ of ‘hard core militants’
This involved the attempt to demonise the Jobstown protesters and Paul Murphy, the imprisonment of the Edenmore Five and the intense focus on unfortunate comments shouted at President Higgins.
But, as the great turn out on 21 March showed, none of this worked. Moreover, it left Irish Water and the government with no effective sanction to make people pay.
Panic and Intimidation
Panicked by 21 March – which must have come as quite a shock if they believed their own propaganda – they shifted back to intimidation.
Suddenly Alan Kelly started to talk about taking the charges out of people’s wages or benefits and even ‘fast track courts’ for non-payers – what next, internment?
But everyone opposed to the charges needs to understand this is bluff and bluster .These are empty threats. There will be NO penalties till mid -1916. That is AFTER the next general election.
Legally they can’t take it from your wages or benefits and landlords can’t take it from your rent.
NO ONE WILL GO TO JAIL FOR NON-PAYMENT.
And even if, in desperation, they were to force emergency legislation through the Dáil, as if they were really facing a terrorist threat, it would be unenforceable in the face of a MASS boycott.
The Key Task
This is why the key task for anti-water charges campaigner is to get out into their local communities with the ‘Don’t be intimidated, Don’t Pay!’ message.
In making this case there are three other important points to stress:
1. It doesn’t matter if you’ve registered, you still don’t have to pay
2. When Water charges were defeated in the mid 1990s those who refused to pay never had to but those who had paid got no refund.
3. Even if you are sent an incorrect bill, and Irish Water admits this will happen, just ignore it – don’t engage with them.
Keep on the Streets.
If the boycott is now centre stage it doesn’t mean stopping the installation of water metres and demonstrations no longer matter. Bringing people together in the communities and in big numbers on the streets is crucial for building and sustaining non-payment. It is what gives people the confidence that we can win
This is why it is important to support the Non-Payment Network Demonstration on 18 April 2pm at the Garden of Remembrance and the Dublin Council of Trade Unions March from Parnell Square at 6.30pm on 1 May.