Sinn Féin promises to tackle water charges issue
Sinn Féin promises to tackle water charges issue

A recurring theme in the assembly election in the North is the British government’s proposal for water charges, a new tax on a plentiful resource aimed at raising up to a hundred million pounds sterling for the British exchequer.

Socialists such as Eamonn McCann, Socialist Environmental Alliance candidate in Foyle, and a number of independent republicans have soundly rejected the water charges. A campaign of civil disobedience is planned against their imposition.

McCann accused the north’s four biggest parties of trying to undermine “the non-payment campaign” by those opposed to water rates.

He said the main parties were in effect helping an unprincipled government to impose an unfair and undemocratic tax on every constituency.

McCann accused Sinn Féin of telling people “to be obedient to the British government and pay their water charges, or else they’ll end up like the rent and rates strikers in the 1970s”.

“We give notice to Sinn Féin and all the other conservative parties that we fully intend to defeat water charges, and that in the course of carrying this fight forward, we will face up to them just as we are facing up to Peter Hain and the Northern Ireland Office,” he added.

SDLP leader and Foyle candidate Mark Durkan said his party wanted restoration of devolution so the assembly could stop the government’s plans for water charges, rates reform and other charges being lined up.

Mr Durkan said the SDLP would be proposing a ‘revenue regulator’ as an independent watchdog against government levying excessive and unfair charges on households and businesses.

“The regulator would scrutinise the amounts various tiers of government ask ratepayers to pay, from the proposed new super-councils to the assembly and executive,’’ he said.

“If the regulator believes that government is asking too much of the paying public, he or she would have the power not just to challenge specific or cumulative charges but to propose an affordable cap.”

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said that his party in an Executive would bring the same energy to resolving the issue of water charges as they did to the peace process.

“I have been out in a number of constituencies in the past week or so,” said Mr McGuinness. “There is a clear sense that people want this to work. They want this election campaign to result in fully functioning institutions.

“They want local politicians sorting out local problems. The issue of water charges has been raised many times.

“Let me say that in an Executive Sinn Féin will bring the same energy and the same focus to resolving this issue as we have to other key issues of concern in the Peace Process such as Policing or Demilitarisation.”

The ‘Fair Rates Campaign’ said its analysis of British government figures showed that northern ratepayers would pay more this year for the same services they received last year.

It has said only three council areas will see a fall in their rates bills despite government assurances that 55 per cent of ratepayers would be better off.

Sinn Féin Fermanagh and South Tyrone candidate Michelle Gildernew said the new water bills were “a concern” and would hit rural communities particularly hard.

“I am also very concerned at the impact of the threat to remove the domestic allowance for mixed property use by farmers,’’ she said.

“There is an indication that the domestic allowance will be removed totally by 2010 with a phasing out beginning in April of this year.

“The minister and the department have yet again used the cloak of consultation before any firm commitment is given to farmers as to how much they can be expected to pay.

“While there are a number of possible alternatives such as individual trough metering or a fixed charge, the certainty is that direct-rule ministers see this as an opportunity to force farmers to pay more than they are paying at present. They will be paying twice.”

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© 2007 Irish Republican News