“what you would have paid if it wasn’t for the fact that water charges had been cancelled.”

This rough recording is from RTE’s Late Debate programme from last Tuesday. In it Deputy Pearse Doherty outlines how he thinks water is not charged for in Northern Ireland.

“They actually get a notice every year which says this is the amount you would have paid if it wasn’t for the fact that water charges had been cancelled.”

Except that the ‘notice’ Pearse mentions is in fact the local rate bill which informs householders in Northern Ireland which part of the money they are being charged for actually goes towards the paying for water.

Pearse is correct when he said that his party’s northern Minister for Regional Development ended contractual arranges for the collection of a separate domestic water rate.

But nothing the party did or did not do changes the fact that in Northern Ireland there is a charge levied to domestic households.

In fact the EU Water Framework Directive arose from an number of consultations, not least a major water conference back in 1996. It made two recommendations that are relevant to the current issue of charging for water, north and south:

  • getting the prices right
  • getting the citizen involved more closely

The arrangements in Northern Ireland don’t explain how the money is spent on water. It’s merely an item on the bill, with little evidence of tracking of costs or accountability for how ratepayer’s money is spent.

So it charges, but does not involve any citizens in the process of managing a scarce resource. But it’s also hard to see how water charges have been cancelled when it is so clearly marked on the bill…

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  • AndyB

    Quite. A massive reason for the opposition to water charges was that it was proposed as an extra expense for households – there was to be no reduction in the Regional Rate to reflect the fact that it no longer had to cover the cost of water supply.

  • Gingray

    Really Mick? This is the lengths you go to for todays shinner gotcha story? Wow

    You could have had a thoughtful analysis of where we go with water charges – as is with all our failing executive claiming victory by diverting resources from elsewhere to pay for it, introducing a fee, using rpa perhaps to have the new councils include in rates etc

    But instead we have one of your daily puff pieces attacking sf. Semantics – to most people Doherty is right, they don’t get a bill. Stupid short term policy from sf and the rest

    Luckily you apply the same scrutiny to all parties. I loved your piece about northern Irelands new health minister and his views on the role his religious beliefs will play. Challenging and insightful.

    Oh wait. 3 years ago before the sf fixation

  • mickfealty

    I’m not sure you understand just how utterly boring it is to write this stuff? This is mind numbingly boring. But whether by design or poor grid management, these ‘semantics’ do matter.

    Both DUP and SF went into the 2007 elections promising they would not allow water charging, but only in the case of the DUP did they lay out and explain clearly that it was double charging they were against.

    SF were against Water Charging, even though the rates already comprised water charges. Now I can imagine they had a good object in mind: ie to forestall the privatisation of water (a thoroughly stupid and unnecessary departure from good sense).

    But the party leader’s overriding reluctance to attach himself to any policy instrument, it ends up with yet another senior party rep gabbling nonsense to cover up the fact that SF has no consistent policy position on this or any other matter.

  • Gingray

    I do understand you are trying to make a valid point here, but I also wonder why neither mainstream media nor commentators on slugger seem as energised by it? A boring topic as you say, but also for lots of people it really doesn’t matter.

    Is your belief that SF have no consistent policy position on any matter why you post so regularly about them, and if so would you ever consider that the sheer volume of gotcha pieces put out on slugger might be counterproductive?

  • mickfealty

    Yep. But that’s not admit that I’m in any way shape or form suggesting that what I’m pursuing is some kind of predefined product.

    My own personal perspective is that process beats product and form shapes content, which is why doing the boring stuff is sometimes worth it…

  • mickfealty

    People say that a lot. I think if it was all I blogged about, it would make me wonder that myself. It’s not all that concerns me. I do think it is part of the democratic bargain (imperfect and all as it is) that people in power or in pursuit of power be accountable for their actions.

  • Owen Smyth

    Great article. It seems to be a common belief that no specific charge for a public service means that a particular individual doesn’t need to pay for it.