17 February 2005 Edition
Spellar U-turn on water charges exposes Labour hypocrisy
A copy of a letter received by An Phoblacht exposes the U-turn on water charges by NIO Minister John Spellar, who is now charged with imposing this double taxation in the Six Counties.
In the letter, written in July 1995 by Mo Mowlam, the then British Labour Party's spokesperson on the Six Counties while in opposition to the Keep Water Public Campaign, Mowlam said that Spellar, as Shadow NIO Minister for Energy, was campaigning against privatisation in the North.
The letter stated that water privatisation had been a failure in the 'United Kingdom' and that water quality subsequently suffered due to lack of investment.
The letter went on to say that a recent report had revealed that "over 90% of the people of Northern Ireland (sic) are opposed to privatising this essential service and Labour will do all we can to ensure this never happens".
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Water Charges, Francie Molloy, said it was nothing new for opposition parties to oppose something one minute and completely change their minds when they are the party in power.
Molloy told An Phoblacht that people on low incomes will be the most vulnerable when it comes to water charges and Sinn Féin remains totally opposed to this form of taxation.
Sinn Féin's Employment and Learning spokesperson, Michael Ferguson, toured the Belfast picket lines of striking Water Service workers on Wednesday 9 February in solidarity with their efforts to challenge British Labour Party's 'reform' proposals.
The proposals, which include the shedding of 700 jobs by 2010, the privatisation of pension provision, greater use of Public Private Partnerships and loss of public service status, are the thin edge of a wedge that will lead to the complete sale and privatisation of the Water Service.
The four unions AMICUS, ATGWU, GMB and NIPSA, who are equally opposed to additional Water Charges, launched the 24-hour strike action.
"We must in conjunction with the Trade Unions, our Social Partners and Civil Society mount an unprecedented campaign to stop the British Government exploiting the absence of the Assembly," said Ferguson. "In the process, we need to ensure the support of all political parties, especially the SDLP and UUP, who were acquiescing via the Strategic Investment Board to the introduction of water charges during the last Assembly, lest our service be privatised and sold off to a foreign company, as was Thames Water."
Meanwhile, hundreds of campaigners were joined by trade unionists, politicians and community groups as rallies were held across the Six Counties on Saturday 12 February to protest against the planned introduction of water charges.