Irish referendum must safeguard public water services

During a day of national protest against privatisation in September 2016 red flags were raised in Dublin city. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Irish government will hold a referendum on adding an amendment to the constitution that ensures state control over water services. The referendum was approved by the cabinet Tuesday 20 November and will probably take place mid-2019.

According to the Irish Times the planned amendment to the Constitution would stipulate that ownership of a water services authority must be retained by the State or a State-controlled body. Irish minister of Housing Eoghan Murphy wants to add the following text: '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.'

Future of water
The new approach should prevent private ownership of public water services and avoid any unwelcome disruption in the water services sector. In 2017 the joint Oireachtas committee on the future of water charges supported the concept of holding a constitutional referendum on the future of water services. Ireland has had a number of privatisation nightmares like selling waste collection and telecom services.

Water charges
The last years the Irish nationally protested against the introduction of water charges. Under pressure of Europe Ireland started paying for their water usage. The 1st of January 2014 national water company Irish Water officially started and it caused national agitation. The Irish water infrastructure has a very high leakage rate and due to this people got very expensive bills. 'No way, we won't pay' was the slogan of many protests. Privatisation of public water services is seen as a threat for affordable water prices and water access for everyone.