It’s not often that we in GUE/NGL can claim success in the chamber of the European Parliament but today was one such day.
Over the past several months the Irish people have become acutely aware not just of the efforts to charge people directly for water use, but of the further efforts to then privatise what was always a public asset, turning control of one of life’s most precious assets over to big business, whose bottom line is profit, profit and more profit.
There is now a strong movement across Europe united under the slogan Right2Water, strongly represented in Ireland, and this resulted in a recent petition to the European Commission that gathered 1.8 million signatures, from every country in the EU.
Even the Commission couldn’t ignore this massive show of strength from the grassroots but their response, to say the least, was watery…
In response, and led by an Irish MEP, Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan, the Parliament compiled its own Report, a far stronger response with most of the aims of the Right2Water campaign addressed.
Included in that Report is the following clause: ‘Calls on the Member States to introduce, in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines, a pricing policy by the application of a progressive charge that safeguards people’s right to access a minimum quantity of water for living and cracks down on waste.’ That ‘progressive charge’ in Ireland is and must remain a charge taken from general taxation, with those who earn the most paying the most. It does NOT mean the introduction of a separately applied water-charge, something I would never support. Water is a more basic human need and a more basic human right than education/infrastructure or anything else you care to name; no parent should be put in the position where they must decide whether they can afford to wash their kids, or their clothes, or boil another kettle of water. It is and must remain a societal expense that’s paid from general taxation.
The Report was passed at Committee stage but the EPP, the biggest political group in the Parliament and with Fine Gael as staunch members, did what the EPP does, answered the call of big business and presented its own Proposal, in which most of the major elements were diluted. Our victory, the victory for the people? That EPP/Fine Gael proposal was defeated.
The four Fine Gael MEPs, Deirdre Clune, Brian Hayes, Sean Kelly and Mairead McGuinness, voted with EPP all the way down the line, even succeeded in getting a few amendments passed, but when it came to the final vote, and now a beaten docket, they left the field, abstained. All the other Irish MEPs (Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan, Liadh Ní Riada and Matt Carthy, along with Derry’s Martina Anderson; Marian Harkin, Nessa Childers and yours truly) voted in favour.
Little victories, we take them where we can; so often Strasbourg can be such a dispiriting week but this was a good day for the people and for their true representatives. Lynn Boylan’s Report has been carried and the ball is now very firmly back in the court of the Commission. They ignored the call of the people, will they now ignore the call of the people’s only elected representatives in Europe?