A referendum, which would “focus on retaining the entity charged with the provision of public water in public ownership,” could take place in the first half of next year, according to the local government minister.
In a letter to the chair of the Oireachtas local government committee earlier this month, Eoin Murphy said the timetable depended on reaching Oireachtas agreement on the text of a constitutional amendment, a wording for which was currently being “legally reviewed and tested” by departmental officials.
“An appropriate basis on which a constitutional amendment proposal may be advanced is now beginning to emerge. I am working towards having revised amendment wording ready for autumn 2019. On this basis, it may be possible to facilitate the holding of a referendum in the first half of next year,” he wrote.
Fórsa and other unions that represent water workers have made a referendum a ‘red line’ condition in talks, currently underway in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), about the creation of Irish Water as a single national water authority.
In May, Fórsa’s local government division conference passed a number of motions that called for an early referendum to guarantee against privatisation. The public vote is also a central demand in the union’s ‘more power to you’ campaign for strengthened local democracy and local services.
In his letter to Maria Bailey, who chairs the Oireachtas committee on housing, planning and local government, Minister Murphy also admitted that the proposal to consolidate water services under Irish Water would mean new challenges for the Irish local government sector.
“Any process of transformation needs to be cognisant of the potential impact on the wider local government system. Ultimately, given my Department’s responsibility for the local government system, I want to ensure that our local authorities continue to be a vibrant and progressive component of public service delivery in Ireland.”
Again, this statement appears to respond to Fórsa demands that the future sustainability of local authority services is guaranteed in any deal that sees them transfer water responsibilities to Irish Water.
In the WRC-assisted talks currently underway, Fórsa and other unions have sought simultaneous movement on four strands:
• The future sustainability and revitalisation of local authority services
• A constitutional referendum on public ownership of water services
• The structure and governance of the proposed single water utility, and
• Employment and industrial relations issues that arise from the proposal.