Water Charges: Resistance is the Real Irish Exemption


There has been much discussion of the 'Irish Exemption' to the EU Water Framework directive, with some suggesting that 'this changes everything', but it's important to note that the Real Irish Exemption is our widespread and continuing resistance.

Despite assertions from the government that Ireland is required by the EU directive to impose water charges, there is actually a unique exclusion of Ireland in article 9.4, negotiated in 2000 - which former MEP Kathy Sinnott brought to light 2 weeks ago. Therefore the imposition of domestic water charges is, unsurprisingly, a choice made by the Irish government.

This legal exemption, however, is under threat as Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly – who continues to deny the existence of the exemption – intends to rescind it on the 1st of January. The exemption can only be rescinded by the Irish government, and must be renewed (or cancelled) every 7 years in Ireland's River Basin Management Plan which is submitted to the EU Commission.

The Real Exemption

Although this is significant, it is most important to note that the huge anti-water charges movement was in full swing before many were aware of this legal exemption. We are opposed to the water charges because they are unfair and an assault on our living standards, not because they aren't really required by some EU directive. 

The obvious fact is that the only way we will defeat the water charges is through our direct resistance: boycott, mass protest, preventing meter installation, removing meters. The 'Irish Exemption' would be meaningless without it, because clearly we can't rely on the goodwill of our rulers to defend our interests. That's not to say they're unreliable – they will reliably defend the interests of the rich, the state, and broadly the dominant groups in society. The Irish government was happy to ignore article 9.4. The Troika wants water charges, so do Fine Gael and Labour, and so does Denis O'Brien and his ilk.

But this is a general point, not limited to the campaign against water charges. The law, when it is not attacking us, is often a poor assurance of our freedom and well being. Time and time again it is shown that we must look out for ourselves, not trust that laws and leaders will protect us. As famous Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta said, 'the laws protecting workers are respected only where the workers know how to look after themselves and where those laws are, as a result, pointless.' Indeed, any improvements are hard won, and the ruling elite are quick to corrode improvements codified in law if they are not rigorously defended and advanced by mass movements and dedicated struggle. 

After all, there is no linear progression of history. The Irish people defeated the water charges less than twenty years ago in an extensive popular campaign. But here we are again - déjà vu - fighting the same battle because this same economic and political system remains, with the same exploitative and oppressive characteristics at its core. 

Governments have come and gone, but capitalism and the state have survived. Should we be surprised that a system based on the power of a few, based on the maxim 'you get what you can take', is intent on turning the substance most essential to life, water, into a commodity?

The Real Irish Exemption is always available to us, regardless of any legal decree. Though this society has largely been designed by the powerful for the powerful, we are the authors of our destiny. We can remain passive and cling to the hope that 'someone else will do it', or we can acknowledge our latent potential, get active, organised, and transform society for the good of all.

Never forget the Real Irish Exemption.