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  • News

Water refunds are nothing to be smug about

Monday, 11th September, 2017 7:59am

Story by Tony McCullagh
Water refunds are nothing to be smug about

Mass public protests were held in opposition to water charges. PHOTO: TONY McCULLAGH SNR

Water refunds are nothing to be smug about

Mass public protests were held in opposition to water charges. PHOTO: TONY McCULLAGH SNR

THERE was a serious outbreak of smugness last week as the Government announced a refund for those who paid their water charges, with cheques expected to plop through letterboxes before Christmas.

I wasn’t immune to being smug myself, as I chided the “suckers” in my newsroom who had been compliant members of society and coughed up at least some portion of their water bills.

At one point, to be honest, I had almost capitulated but my resolve to withhold payment was strengthened by the cacophony of opposition to water charges in the run up to the 2016 General Election. With water emerging as the dominant election issue, politicians of all hue scrambled to find a solution to the fiasco. 

Like many others, I hedged my bets and held out until a new Government was elected so I could see which way the wind would blow on the issue. I can’t personally claim to be part of the anti-water charges movement as I didn’t attend any of the mass protests. But in withholding my payment, I like to think I played a small role in their abolition.

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy arguably earned a right to be smugger than usual last week when the Cabinet signed off on the refunds, describing the news as “a vindication” of the anti-water charges movement.

“The lesson is clear – protest and boycotts work,” Deputy Murphy declared. 

He warned the Government of similar opposition if any attempt is made to create a back door for water bills through so-called excessive usage charges.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for Housing and Local Government, Eoin Ó Broin, was also quick to hail the refunds as a victory for the Right2Water movement. But all the talk of water seemed to have gone to poor Eoin’s head when he stated that it was important that money for the refunds was not taken from priority areas such as “hosing” and health. I’m pretty sure he meant “housing”.

For all the smugness generated by the water charges debacle, it’s far from a laughing matter. In addition to the €173m in refunds, the cost of refunding customers will be around €5m to cover letters, additional call centre staff and a public information campaign. A case of more money down the drain.

This additional cost was pounced on by Fine Gael TD, Alan Farrell, who tweeted (sarcastically, I think) that thank you cards should be sent to Fianna Fáil. Deputy Farrell conveniently neglected to mention that it was his own party’s Phil Hogan who had threatened to turn people’s water pressure “down to a trickle” if they didn’t pay up.

The words glasshouses and stones immediately come to mind.

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