Tens of thousands take to the streets with one clear message: 'Enda Kenny, we won't pay'
Coalition's 'get tough' threat on non-payment of water bills
Cities and towns across Ireland came to a standstill today as an army of more than 150,000 people took to the streets protesting over water charges.
In what was one of the biggest displays of public discontent seen in recent years, young and old battled the wind and rain to wage a war on water charges.
Gardai said there were no arrests and no reports of any major public order incidents at any of the protests.
Organisers of over 100 local Right2Water protests around Ireland said they were delighted with the massive turnout, despite torrential rain
“Despite torrential rain, our expectations have been massively exceeded, with well over 150,000 people coming out in every neighbourhood, town and village to send a clear message to the Government: water is a human right, and we demand the abolition of domestic water charges," organisers said.
“Today showed the strength of public opposition to water charges in communities up and down the country.
"The time has come for the Government to accept the will of the people, abolish domestic water charges and return to the drawing board. Until they do, the Right2Water campaign will keep up the pressure."
Details of a major rally outside the Dail on December 10th – International Human Rights Day – will be announced during the coming days.
From mid morning, thousands made their way to protests across the country, including 28 demonstrations in and around the capital before some 50,000 staged a mass rally on O'Connell Street.
A large turnout in Tallaght saw the N81 Tallaght bypass between Cookstown Way and the Belgard Road blocked for a time, according to the AA.
The Tallaght protest was one of the first to take place in Dublin - and drew a large and boisterous crowd.
"Enda Kenny, we won't pay" roared an estimated 5,000 people gathered outside Swords shopping centre at another early protest.
Independent TD Clare Daly said the more than 90 nationwide demonstrations are a signal to local politicians that their votes hang in the balance.
She also told the rally that attempts by the Government to examine a "fair price" for the disputed charge "smacks of a Government that is in total crisis desperately trying to buy off the opposition in the vain hope that people will accept it "
"The people smell blood and they're going in for the kill and nothing but full abolition will suffice"
She said the Government need to "go back to the drawing board" and find another way to fund investment in our water infrastructure "not off the backs of the people."
The protesters also warned that if the Government does not heave the tax another "gigantic" protest will take place on December 10, a working day.
"Come January the Government will be met with mass civil disobedience because they won't be getting any money back", said Clare Daly.
Aoife Doyle (24) said she has never protested before but felt compelled to join the rally.
"I came with my family to say no to the charge, we've had enough and we're not willing to take anymore. I've never done anything like this before but I made the right decision to speak out," said the Swords native.
And it wasn't only adults who were intent on being heard.
"It's not fair, I'm only 10 and I don't want to pay for water for the rest of my life and they can't make us pay," said Aisling Quinn protesting with twin sister Aoife and friends Emma O'Shaughnessy (10) and Leigha Martin (10), all from Swords.
Dean Mulligan 23 said it's very important for young people to exercise their rights. "The whole thing is corrupt, it's not our fault that the water is leaking all around the country so why should we have to pay for their mistakes?"
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett - one of the organisers of the Right2Water campaign – and broadcaster Vincent browne joined protestors in Dun Laoghaire.
The politician said the nationwide protest is part of an unprecedented popular rebellion that will reach new heights in the coming weeks and months.
"Today’s protests are only the latest phase in a rapidly expanding people’s revolt that would move to a new level on December 10th when the next Right2Water national protest will take outside Dail Eireann,” he said.
Protests in the capital coincided with demonstrators taking to streets across Ireland.
In Cork, torrential rain has failed to deter thousands from turning up in the city ahead of the protest march there - with estimates that the crowd is up to 15,000.
Protests were staged in Cork city, Bandon, Youghal, Fermoy, Clonakilty, Mallow and Cobh as campaigners insisted that momentum was now with them in the battle against water charges.
The largest protest was in Cork city where protest numbers soared from 1,500 last weekend to over 10,000 on the Grand Parade today.
“People believe that this isn’t just a battle worth fighting but a war we can now win,” John O’Donovan said.
“They thought we would go away but our numbers have steadily grown and the Government had better sit up and listen to what ordinary people are saying."
The Cork protest took place against a background of increasing clashes between householders and Irish Water.
Several thousand protesters took to the streets in Galway to vent their anger against the water charges.
Families with young children joined elderly pensioners and seasoned protesters as all sections of society came out to add their voice to the growing furore.
They cheered as Right2Water campaigner organiser Dette McLoughlin told the crowd: “We are going to resist, we are going to revolt, we are going to rebel.
There was 'water water everywhere' in rainy Limerick, but not a drop to drink, as thousands traveled from across the mid-west to show their opposition to the water charges.
Despite fears the downpours would wash-out the protest, around 4,000 still turned out in a sea of umbrellas, about two thousand less than last weekends showing here.
Rain soaked and cold, they marched four kilometres into the city centre main protest point.
"We're here to protest today because we all feel it's very unfair, what's happening, and we're hoping the protest can do something about it. I think if people don't protest, we won't be able to change the governments decision," said John Keane, Clonlara, Co Clare, who braved the wind and rain with his children.
Ironically protestors found themselves wading through water as a deluge of rain hit Waterford city in the hours before and during their anti-Irish water charge rally.
Some of the protestors, in the crowd of around 4,500, even jumped into water pools shouting ‘Enda Kenny, we’d rather use this than pay for Irish Water’.
“We have 57 households in our estate and of those only two have signed up to Irish water”, said mother of three Donna Foley of the Richardson’s Meadow Residents Association.
“It’s another kick to the city of Waterford."
Elsewhere thousands took to the streets in County Wexford’s four main towns to protest against water charges, including more than 2,000 in Wexford town.
Almost 1,500 gathered in Enniscorthy where they marched past the office of Fine Gael Junior Minister Paul Kehoe, while New Ross saw close to 700 join the protest. Gorey town saw close to 1,000 joining in the anti-water protest.
Meanwhile, a clampdown on householders who refuse to pay their water charges is being planned by the Government.
The original deadline set for registering with Irish Water passed last night but just 800,000 people had signed up - half the customer base.
The Coalition now feels it will have to adopt a 'get tough' attitude with people who don't pay their bills.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny also warned that income tax would rise by four percent if the Government was to abolish water charges.
Elsewhere Tanaiste Joan Burton claimed the water charges will be "modest".
Coming under mounting pressure over the water charges, Coalition sources told the Irish Independent they are looking at "enforcing compliance on those who won't pay".
Irish Water's arsenal for making householders pay is quite limited, with reducing water pressure being the main penalty.
Within Government circles, there is a sense that 75pc of householders will certainly pay and they will want to see that others are doing the same.
"There is a concern about compliance. A family on the street paying their bill will expect the family next door to also do so," a Government source said.
Irish Water has already been told by the regulator to produce a detailed plan setting out how customers who refuse to register and pay bills will be dealt with.
Anybody who is not registered and paying their bills will not benefit from the Government's relief package.
Ms Burton confirmed last night that a social welfare payment of €100 will only be made to recipients who are paying their bills.
But the Government is also examining other methods to ensure compliance.
The experience with the household charge and property tax was a means of enforcing payment was required.
In those cases, the Revenue Commissioners ultimately deducted unpaid bills from wages or social welfare payments. Irish Water does not have the same powers. The utility company can send warning letters, reduce water pressure and go to court.
But there are concerns about widespread refusals to pay.
The original deadline to register your household with Irish Water ran out yesterday but it has been extended to the end of November.
The company has to be submit a Revenue Assurance Plan to the Regulator before Christmas, outling how it will ensure that all payments are collected.
It comes because the Commission for Energy Regulation is concerned that paying customers will end up footing the bill for objectors.
The CER told Irish Water it must collect all "appropriate revenues" so that the "general customer does not fund non-payment".
Collection rates will be monitored and kept under review.
Irish Water has powers to restrict the supply to people's homes and reduce pressure to only allow for basic sanitation and drinking water.
The company will have to make repeated efforts to help families in financial difficulty pay their bills. But in cases of non-cooperation, they can take people to court where the outstanding bill will be registered as a charge against the property.
This means the home cannot be sold until the debt is discharged. Sheriffs can also be asked to seize goods in lieu of non-payment.
Currently, the company is owed between €100m to €130m from commercial customers who refuse to pay. However, local authorities are currently responsible for collecting the outstanding monies.
Irish Water is expected to take control of revenue collection from commercial customers from next year.
As revealed in yesterday's Irish Independent, the social welfare relief will only be made to those who are paying their bills. "There is a some feeling within the system that water support should be linked to payment," a Government source said.
Ms Burton said the €100 social welfare payment will be made to eligible householders "assuming that they pay their charges".
The Government is working out how to link the benefit to the bills. "It would have to be in cash. We just haven't finalised that yet," she said.
Ms Burton admitted the timeline for setting up Irish Water was "very ambitious".
"What people want is certainty about the level of charges and those charges are affordable and appropriate," she said.