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16 June 2005 Edition

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Water Rates - the true story BY JOE DOHERTY

As someone who has followed, as I am sure many people have, the Water Rates campaign trickle on and off, there have been many esoteric positions or statements by various commentators on this hugely important issue.

I would like to set the record straight and clear the muddied waters so to speak.

Sinn Féin is opposed to the introduction of a water charge. It is our view that the imposition of this double levy bears no direct correlation on the need to modernise and develop our infrastructure, which must be guided by the need for the modernisation and transformation of our public utilities.

The deficit facing the Six Counties vis-à-vis water and sewerage treatment is a direct result of decades of neglect, under investment and the repeated negligence by successive British Administrations to modernise and upgrade such an essential and key service — our Water service.

Sinn Féin aims to work tirelessly towards preserving the public ownership of this utility and;

The Ministers responsible, in this case, John Spellar (DRD) and Ian Pearson (NIO), overlooked the policy context of a post-Good Friday era. Rational policy context must account for Common Chapter commitments to be worked, provided and implemented between Dublin and London on the agreed nine areas of mutual benefit, the areas here being Health and Environment;

The ' Can't Pay - Won't Pay Twice' campaign is a position we cannot support — all efforts must be exerted on stopping the Charges from being introduced;

Sinn Féin lends it full weight behind the wide-ranging, cross-party political support to oppose and reverse the introduction of a further taxation and privatisation agenda by the British Government.Any future Executive must revoke immediately the proposed Water Charge.

Government attempts to align or marry the issue of providing clean drinking water and paying for the privilege are criminally misleading. Communities have been funding the water/sewerage infrastructure through domestic rate payments and via the taxation system for the previous 40 years.

The EU Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, The Drinking Water Directive 98/83/EC and the Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban waste-water treatment bear no impact on forcing communities to pay for delivery, management, maintenance and access to water provision;

While Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive requires Members States to have water pricing policies in place by 2010 - this does not provide evidence to push forward a privatisation agenda.

Sinn Féin will do all in within its power to reverse the privatisation agenda, which is the preferred route for Direct Rule Government Department policy makers.

We are particularly concerned that the Water Service will be exposed to an ' efficiency ' programme leading to redundancies.

Sinn Féin holds serious concerns once again over the dearth of consultation with the wider population over plans to instigate and commit to a process of introducing a stealth double tax in the shape of the Water Charge (thus far amounting to a 13-week consultation in 2003 and a 14-week period in 2004). This is not reflective of an administration prepared to govern in an 'open, active and fair way'.

Sinn Féin, as the largest nationalist party in the North of Ireland, represents the concerns of a sizeable percentage of the population, and rejects any notion that introducing a self-financing government-owned company is the way to deliver on the vital upgrade in water infrastructure.

The estimated £3 billion cost, as identified by the Executive, of capital investment required to finance the water/sewerage service infrastructure over the next 20 years ought not be placed on the consumer population. Domestic Rates have been contributing to this service and Sinn Féin opposes the imposition of this charge as the raison d'être to deliver on this essential public service, which is a basic human right and entitlement.

The consultation makes a play on the decision arrived by the Executive in its Review of Rating Policy document (May 2002). The high levels of socio-economic deprivation experienced by our communities throughout the North of Ireland are among the highest in the EU. The application of the Barnett Formula, we feel, is neither an equitable nor effective tool to allocate government expenditure to this region.

Levels of economic activity, development, sustainability and incomes are much higher in England, Scotland and Wales, notwithstanding the fact that the Welsh not-for-profit model received a marked level of investment prior to moving to a self-financing basis.

If the ministers are committed to phasing in this double tax, then the wider population must be informed of the full facts. The decision to do so is not at the behest of European Directives, nor it is directly related to the fact that many other EU Members States pay for water services. It is more to do with shifting the cost of their neglect to invest in a measured, strategic, aggressive and long-term way, onto the consumer. The consequences of the introduction of this tax will have a detrimental impact on the most marginally excluded sections within society.

Overpaid water consultants

Sinn Féin's regional development spokesperson, Raymond McCartney, has slammed revelations that Water Service chiefs have set aside £460,000 to pay consultants investigating the potential for the private sector investment which will oversee the introduction of water charges.

The revelations come amid growing fears over the safety of water treatment works across the Six Counties, after father of six Drew Stevenson died in an explosion at a water treatment works at Carmoney outside Derry city last week.

"I am amazed that these huge sums of money have been paid out to consultants by the Department of Regional Development as they attempt to legitimise the introduction of water charges," said McCartney. "The imposition of this double levy bears no direct correlation to need to modernise and develop our infrastructure, which must be guided by the need to modernise and transform our public utilities."

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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