Right2Change Trade Unions respond to Joan Burton criticisms

According to the Irish Independent, “Tánaiste Joan Burton has lashed out at trade unions who she says don't consider upgrading the country's water system to be a priority.

“The Labour Party leader said she finds it "astonishing" that some unions are part of the anti-water charge movement, given the scale of problems.

"It's very odd to have elements of the trade union movement, who appear to be reluctant to accept the idea that water, while absolutely a right, actually has to be funded and paid for," Ms Burton said.

In a response to Tánaiste Joan Burton’s comments, the Right2Change trade unions said: “This is not the stance of ‘some unions’. It is the official policy of the entire trade union movement on the island of Ireland, as was democratically voted for at the last Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Biennial Delegate Conference this year. A conference, it must be added, that Tánaiste Burton attended.”

The Unions continued, “It is unfortunate that the leader of the Labour Party has attempted to portray the Right2Change trade unions as irresponsible saying we ‘don’t consider upgrading the country’s water system to be a priority.’

“We have repeatedly called for more investment in our water services, while this current government and the previous one reduced funding by 65 percent from €839m to €289m. 

“This has never been about whether our water services need investment, it has always been a question of how that investment is funded. We, and the broader water movement, want it to be funded through general taxation which is progressive, fair and takes account of your ability to pay.”

The statement from the unions continued: “You can’t on the one hand say our water services are in dire need of investment, and on the other hand give tax breaks to the wealthiest in our society, as was done in the recent Budget. To everybody campaigning within the water movement, this is simply a transfer of wealth from the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society to the wealthiest.

“In June of this year Irish Water announced that 81% of Co Roscommon residents affected by boil water notices have now been given the all-clear to drink their own tap water. The fact this was done entirely through general taxation proves that our method of paying for water services and infrastructure works.”

In her statement, Tánaiste Burton says she accepts that water is a human right, yet the policy being imposed by her government does not reflect that and in fact completely ignores UN Resolution 64/292.

Furthermore, the Unions say the real agenda behind water charges is not about investment in our water system, but about the future privatisation of our water in Ireland. 

“At the ICTU BDC in Ennis, a motion calling for a referendum to enshrine ownership of our water services in the constitution was unanimously supported by every trade union in the country, and yet the Labour Party in government have refused to offer this referendum to the people of Ireland. The only logical explanation for this is the intention to privatise water in the future. 

“There is no doubt, should there be future financial turmoil which leads to another Irish bailout – which is increasingly likely due to the continued pro-cyclical fiscal policies of this government – that the Troika, EU and the IMF would demand the sale of our public water services, as they did in Portugal and Greece in their bailout negotiations. The only reason Ireland was not forced into selling off our water system during the previous bailout was because there was no revenue raising mechanism in place at that time to provide a sufficient profit for the private sector.

The Trade Unions concluded: “It is unacceptable for the leader of the Labour Party to criticise trade unions who are representing the wishes of their members and advocating the protection of the most vulnerable from regressive water charges. Particularly when the leader of the Labour Party is standing over a policy which will ensure privatisation of our public water system in the future.”