Belfast Telegraph

Support for public water referendum

The leader of one of the country's biggest unions has backed calls for a referendum on the ownership of public water.

In the wake of mass nationwide protests over charges for the new utility, Siptu general president Jack O'Connor called on the Government to offer an amendment to the Constitution to prevent the privatisation of supplies.

Siptu had declined to back yesterday's Right2Water demonstrations which brought at least 150,000 people on to the streets at about 100 marches around the country.

But in the wake of the mass opposition, the union chief has backed the calls made by Sinn Fein and the Greens last week predicting the privatisation of supplies without it.

"None of the major political parties would openly support privatisation, some because they are deeply ideologically opposed to it, others because it would be so unpopular," Mr O'Connor said.

"Nevertheless, it will still come about by stealth and very quickly too if the citizens of Ireland do not vote for such a constitutional change."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night responded to the growing discontent over water charges with a stark warning that the top rate of income tax will be hiked by a crippling 4% if the new utility is abolished.

Mr Kenny claimed Irish Water will set out over the coming weeks how much people will pay, what they will pay for and what they will get in return.

Only 800,000 of the country's two million homes have returned packs to Irish Water detailing their registration, which includes a requirement for a valid PPS number to guarantee the correct allowances are given. Failure to register will mean an automatic bill of 425 euro a year.

A third day of action against the looming utility bills is being planned for Leinster House on December 10 - International Human Rights Day.

Mr O'Connor said private funds will have to be sought by the Government if there is a mass movement against paying for water.

"The use of private money would soon emerge as the solution to such a funding crisis and the creeping privatisation of the service would then ensue. A constitutional amendment could preclude such a tragedy," he said.

Siptu declined to back the anti-water charge protests but have been promoting their own policy of a mechanism to fully offset the cost of every household's "normal need for water".

Mr O'Connor added: "It's not rocket science. A refundable tax credit is the way to do it. Fiddling around with the issue won't cut the mustard. It will simply prolong the crisis.

"In the end, and possibly very quickly, Irish Water won't be able to collect its revenues thus rendering it insolvent and we will sleepwalk into the privatisation of public water supply."

Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, lashed the Taoiseach over his 4% tax claim warning it is "truly bizarre and utterly bogus".

"The Taoiseach is deliberately attempting to frighten people with misleading data. He is clearly panicked following yesterday's marches and is seeking to deliberately confuse the debate," he said.

Mr Martin pointed to Revenue documents from last month which said a 1% rise in the top rate would bring in 233 million euro.

He said by implication a 4% rise would yield 932 million euro.

Mr Martin pointed to other figures including from former environment minister Phil Hogan who said domestic bills would bring in 300 million euro but that figure would be reduced to 150 million euro with concessions.

The opposition leader said 533 million euro has been paid from local government funds to Irish Water and is in the budget for 2015 and another 230 million euro from commercial revenue will be used to off-set an equal amount of general spending.

Mr Martin added: "The Taoiseach should withdraw this bogus threat and people's concerns have to be addressed."

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