A public campaign against the installation of water meters in the 26 Counties has further escalated following the official start of billing of the public by Irish Water, the new state-owned water utility board.
A number of protests have been greeted with heavy-handed arrest operations by the Gardai police.
In Edenmore on Dublin’s Northside, a Garda riot squad was deployed to deal with a peaceful protest by residents. A total of nine activists were arrested after they were named by GMC Sierra Ltd, which is installing the meters in the area on behalf of Bord Gais.
Eleven people were arrested on O’Connell Street in Dublin city centre the previous weekend during a sit-down protest against increasing charges and cuts for essential services.
‘Dublin Says No’, an umbrella campaign group against the water meters, organised the ‘Lockout 2014’ protest calling for a shutdown of O’Connell Street.
Hundreds subsequently marched this week on Coolock Garda Barracks to protest at the arrests.
Other major protests have taken place in Cork and Dundalk. In County Roscommon this week, an individual anti-austerity protestor was incredibly attacked by a Fine Gael TD as he attempted to speak to Taoiseach Enda Kenny about health cutbacks. Local TD Frank Feighan is now facing a Garda investigation for assault after he shoved and jabbed an elderly man who had approached the Taoiseach’s vehicle.
On Wednesday, Irish Water officially began billing customers connected to the main supply, with the average bill for a family of two adults and two children expected to be around 278 euro, mostly using “assessed” (unmetered) charges.
eirigi, one of several smaller republican groups who have taken to the streets, said that the trouble witnessed over the water meter installation so far is only “a taste of what is to come”.
In an account of the trouble, they said the working class will “literally have to fight for a better future”.
“The fight against the Water Tax will be neither short nor pretty,” they said. “Anyone who says otherwise is either hopelessly naive or a charlatan”.
The implementation of the water charges has so far been surrounded by controversies of political corruption and mismanagement.
Earlier this year, Irish Water CEO John Tierney’s admitted that 50 million euro of public money had been spent on consultants. At the time, Minister for Environment and now an European Commissioner-Designate Phil Hogan said that while he aware of the overall cost, he claimed to be unaware of the consultancy spend. However, it has since emerged that he personally signed a document detailing the funding costs.
Hogan, facing calls for his resignation, defended the multi-million spend on billing the public, saying that you “can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”.
Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy said that revelations provided further evidence as to why Hogan is not suitable for the position of EU Agriculture Commissioner.
“It is clear now that Mr Hogan’s established position on this issue is laced with contradiction,” he said. “I would like to know why Phil Hogan sought to mislead people when he was originally questioned on this matter.”
And a former Fine Gael councillor has been forced to resign from the board of Irish Water. Hilary Quinlan resigned after it was revealed that he had also been appointed as a driver to junior environment minister Paudie Coffey.
In response to allegations of cronyism in the appointment, Mr Quinlan said: “You tell me one party out there who doesn’t look after their own. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s politics.”