The Oireachtas Committee, set up to deal with the matter, has – as this is written – an anti-water charges majority, just.
A couple of days ago Housing Minister Simon Coveney stated that normal water bills would be abolished.
“Water charges are gone, they’re going to be abolished,” said Coveney. “Normal usage for households across the country will be paid for through general taxation.”
This is the same Simon Coveney who just a week ago was acting the hard man, probably for the benefit of his Fine Gael base, and saying he would refuse to countenance such abolition.
And this is the same issue which a week ago was threatening to bring down the government, or rather was being used by Fianna Fail to threaten to bring down the government. How come? Why has this issue proved so difficult to deal with?
Why have all their strenuous efforts to put it to bed, or kick it into touch or which metaphor your having yourself, been such a failure?
Why have Fianna Fail, who were always in favour of the charges, after flip-flopping half a dozen times, come out against them?
There is really no mystery to this. It is because of the great mass movement, the greatest in the recent history of the state: the immense resistance of ordinary people the length and breadth of Ireland.
This resistance took three main forms: blocking the installation of meters; mass demonstrations; refusal to pay. Each of these on its own was very effective but together they deadly. And each reinforced the other.
But why was there a mass movement on water charges, rather than other issues, issues just as or even more serious? The establishment politicians, media and the upper middle classes with the Dublin 4 mindset have never been able to get their heads round this.
They think it’s because people ‘don’t want to pay for anything’ – as if ordinary people were not already paying for water and practically everything else, from school uniform to bus fares and prescriptions every day of their lives. They think people are greedy and wasteful, the people that is not Denis O’Brien or Dermot Desmond.
The reason they can’t grasp is that people fought over water charges because they felt they could. On this issue they believed they could actually do something, in their communities, in their neighbourhoods, and they could win. And they were right.
Many of the worst things that were done under austerity – the bank bailouts, the cuts to health and education and to the most vulnerable – left many people feeling angry but powerless.
Why didn’t people just take to the streets? Some did but not in huge numbers. In fact getting large numbers on the streets at the same time is easier said than done. Only occasionally does it happen by itself. It needs a focus, organisation, activists.
The household charges saw a mass movement starting to develop but the Government undercut the campaign by taking the property tax out of people’s wages and bank accounts. Many said, ‘You’ll never beat them’.
Then came the water charges and ‘they’ had to install a meter outside ‘your’ front door and you and your neighbours could come out and stop them. And you could refuse to pay and ‘they’ couldn’t stop you.
This was the feeling among working class people that produced the enormous demonstrations of autumn 2014 and after and changed the face of Irish politics. Ever since then the Government and the establishment have been on the back foot, frightened of the people and unsure how to go forward.
We need to keep them there. If they try to wriggle out of abolishing water charges, and they may, we need to be back on streets on 25 March. We want to bury water charges permanently.
We need to make sure that the main lesson from the whole struggle – people power can win – is not forgotten and is applied across the board to housing, health and all the issues facing working people.
And we also need to be there to support the Jobstown Not Guilty campaign because the ridiculous charge of ‘imprisoning’ Joan Burton is precisely an attempt to attack the right to protest.