Politicians are slippery eels. For several years, our politicians attempted to get us all to pay for water twice over, but the people resisted. They threatened us, bribed us, suggested they would fine us, cut off our water and even hinted at jail for defaulters. But the opposition was so vehement that the politicians had to publicly back down and scrap their double-taxation water charges.
But the self-important, stubborn lads and lassies in Leinster House are not used to not getting their own way. They are also devious, masters of the double-speak and patient. Yesterday, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy published the Water Services Bill and on the surface of it, it concerned repaying the minority who paid the water charges. There was though, a minor provision in the Bill that refers to fines for “excessive use” of water. Worse still, it would be up to the Minister to reduce the figure of what can be deemed “excessive use” if he sees fit in the future.
In Ireland, the average individual usage has been set at 133 litres per person per day and after this was announced, nobody seemed too bothered by the limit. “The Act provides that the Minister shall calculate the threshold amount, (133 litres), by multiplying the average rate contained in an expert report furnished to him by a multiplier of 1.7. So excessive water usage is fixed at 226 litres — 1.7 times normal usage.”
Perhaps it is because I find politicians so untrustworthy that I looked a little closer at these figures and compared them with elsewhere. The Act yesterday appears to be saying that if you use in excess of 226 litres of water a day you are liable to a fine. Further, it will be at the discretion of a Minister to decide to lower that consumption limit at any time of his or her choosing. The point is of course that this allows for any Government in the future to lower the acceptable limit for daily usage so that all of us are subject to a fine each month, or a water charge as the rest of us would call it.
What I didn’t know until now is that there are two measurements of the humble gallon. In the US, one litre is the equivalent of 0.264172 of a gallon, while in the UK, one litre equals 0.219969 of a gallon. The average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home. In the UK, estimates vary, but each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day. Are you surprised that the largest use of household water is to flush the toilet, and after that, to take showers and baths? In a home with older toilets, an average flush uses about 3.6 gallons (13.6 liters), and the daily use is 18.8 gallons (71.2 liters) per person per day. In a home with ultra-low-flow (ULF) toilets, with an average flush volume of 1.6 gallons (6 liters). If you have an older toilet in your home in Ireland, then by flushing it ten times in any twenty-four hour period, you will have exceeded the Irish daily limit of 133 litres! How’s that for crafty?
A spokesman for Minister Murphy, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said there is absolutely no intention by the Government to reintroduce water charges. “Technically it is possible to bring them back but everyone accepts water charges are dead,” he said. Notice the cunning, “Technically it is possible to bring them back.” You can be damned sure the slippery eels are only waiting for the right opportunity to again double-tax us for water. “He said future decisions about charging levels would be a matter for the Dáil of the day to decide upon.” You do not have to be a seasoned observer to read between the lines.
Their intention, (as always), is to steal money from us. They have already managed to slip a very low daily limit past us without a grumble. They have established the principle of fines for excessive use. Then this new Act permits the sitting Minister to lower the daily permitted limit on a whim. The next step would be the issuing of fines for excessive use to most of us. In reality then we would all be paying for water and the final stage for the politicians would be to argue that repeated fines could lead to a criminal record, the fines themselves are the equivalent of a payment anyway so to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned, the fines will be converted to invoices, sent to us by Irish Water and payable to them.
Hey Presto! Water charges by the back door.