The Republican Network for Unity say they have photographs of water meters which have recently been installed behind the backs of west Belfast residents.
RNU activists said that acting on the concerns of a local resident they had discovered that a fully functioning water meter had been installed. The Stormont authorities have insisted that they weren’t installing such meters.
Previously, the British government-owned agency which is responsible for maintaining local water services has denied installing meters, or the ‘boundary box’ units which house them.
The agency, ‘Northern Ireland Water’, has now admitted it is indeed installing water meters, but only for those properties connected within the past seven years.
“Meters have been installed at new domestic dwellings connected since 2007. However, these meters are not being read and are not being used for charging purposes,” they said in a statement.
But the stealth installment of water meters has the potential to become as serious a political issue in the North as it is in the South.
The RNU accused NI Water of “blatant lies”. It also and accused Sinn Fein of “deceiving” the people and of adopting “anti-working class measures”.
Sinn Fein has maintained its broad support for NI Water and the works being carried out by the agency. But the party has continued to harden its anti-water charges position in the South, where some commentators are predicting the coalition government could fall on the issue.
Socialists and Sinn Fein have demanded that the ‘Irish Water’ agency tasked with the installation of water meters and billing systems in the 26 Counties, be scrapped entirely.
Amid a growing backlash over cronyism and so-called ‘performance payments’, senior government figures have begun to support a radical reform of the organisation.
Former Fine Gael junior minister for the environment Fergus O’Dowd -- originally tasked with setting up Irish Water -- said the organisation had “abjectly failed”.
Independent MEP Nessa Childers called the operation a “disaster”. She said it was wrong for Ireland to introduce water charges now. “In my opinion the charges should be rowed back on and not charged,” she said, “or Irish Water should be suspended or another way of forming it should be found. We need more time to get it right.”
Figures published this week showed only a third of the 1.5 million eligible households have registered for the charges. This week it was announced that the deadline for registration will have to be extended by a month until November 29th.
The situation was not helped when a government Senator went on television to appeal for support for water charges, arguing that water “doesn’t just fall out of the sky”. But after years of austerity, and with a claimed economic recovery bypassing the vast majority of the Irish public, a lot of people simply will not pay.
A leading economist warned that the introduction of water charges would increase poverty. Dr Tom McDonnell said because everybody uses about the same amount of water, “we are basically moving the burden of water costs down the income groups.”
Protests have continued to take place in various parts of the country with thousands marching in Cork, Ennis, Clonmel and elsewhere. Over a hundred thousand marched earlier this month in Dublin, and the ‘Right2Water’ organisers have planned a national day of local protests on Saturday, November 1st.
The campaign - which involves trade unions, political parties and community groups - is asking all anti-water charges groups, including political parties, to unify and work together to ensure as large a demonstration as possible in their home towns and cities.
Details of the local demonstrations will be announced on Tuesday. See https://www.right2water.ie/events for more details.