Wednesday 23 October 2019

Government faces showdown over severe impact of Irish Water changes - union warns

. (Stock photo)
. (Stock photo)

Ralph Riegel

TRADE union Fórsa warned the Government it faces a showdown over the severe impact staff transfers and funding diversions to Irish Water will have on local councils nationwide.

Trade union officials stressed that such staff transfers and funding diversions could significantly undermine Irish councils.

The warning came as the union overwhelmingly demanded that the Government sanction a referendum to ensure Irish Water remains in public ownership.

The union also overwhelmingly backed a motion that local government water services staff cannot be transferred, without their agreement, to Irish Water or any stand-alone water services utility.

Fórsa delegate Gary Smith from Mayo warned: "This (mess) was not caused by us, we warned against it and we will not be victims of it."

The trade union had vigorously campaigned in 2010 for water services to be retained within the local government structure.

However, water charges became a lightning rod for national protest in 2015/2016 amid privatisation claims and fears some families could face water fees of €750 per annum.

Irish Water and water charges dominated the 2016 General Election debate.

Now, Fórsa warned that the transfer of staff, resources and funding to a stand-alone water utility will have enormous implications for the entire remaining local government structure.

Fórsa national secretary, Peter Nolan, stressed that while 3,000 people working in Irish Water services are very concerned about the current situation, "all 30,000 local government employees are also worried."

Some local councils face losing between 25pc and 30pc of their funding streams if water treatment and all its associated services are transferred to a stand-alone entity.

Conference was warned that potential future privatisation of Irish water services remains an issue of major concern both for workers and the general public.

One delegate pointed out that, after privatisation, water charges in the UK soared by 44pc.

However, in Ireland, water service provision under local government control was ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as boasting 99.82pc compliance with EU drinking water standards.

Delegate Orla Murrin said it was vital the provision of water services remain within the public sector.

"I don't want to go to my teenage children and say we had the chance to keep the provision of water services under public control (but failed to do so)."

Mr Nolan said that trade unions required "unanimous support" in keeping water services - one of the country's most vital national resources - within the public sphere.

"We are not going to stand by and allow water to be privatised. Let that message be very clear."

Fórsa local government and local services members voted overwhelmingly at the union's Kilkenny annual conference for a special referendum to be staged to allow the Constitution to be amended to ensure water services remain in full public control and ownership.

A total of 11 motions were tabled at the Fórsa conference on various issues involving Irish Water and water services.

Critically, Fórsa publicly welcomed a commitment from Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy that the provisions of the Water Services Act will not be invoked in any negotiations over the future of Irish Water.

The union further warned that it wants the terms and conditions of water services employees to be fully respected.

Fórsa vowed to oppose any transfer without agreement of staff from local government water services to Irish Water or any future successor.

Proposals have been outlined for all water services officials to be operating within a single, stand-alone entity.

It is hoped this can be achieved by 2021.

However, a services level agreement with trade unions stipulates a 2025 timeline.

Fórsa members overwhelmingly backed motions that no water services staff member can be transferred without their full agreement.

"We will defend resolutely, by all means at our disposal, all of the terms and conditions of our members in water services," one Fórsa branch member warned.

Irish Water is responsible for the national water services.

Everyday more than 1.7 billion litres of water is pumped throughout the national water pipeline network which extends to 63,000km.

However, almost 50pc of that clean, treated water is lost through leaks in the antiquated network.

More than €500m is currently being invested in the Irish water distribution network.

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