Referendum key to water position
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa will not support any proposal on the future of Irish Water unless it includes a Government commitment to a constitutional referendum to keep water and sewage services in public control, according to the union’s top local authority negotiator.


Speaking in advance of a meeting of unions representing water workers – called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) – National secretary Peter Nolan said copper-fastening public ownership of water services remained a ‘red line’ for Fórsa and other unions in the sector.


The ICTU meeting will consider an invitation to talks about the Government’s proposed establishment of a single public sector entity for the delivery of water services. It follows a number of meetings with union branches in recent months.


Forsa’s two divisions in the sector – the Municipal Employees’ Division and Local Government & Local Services Division – have already said that members will be balloted on the outcome of any talks, if they do take place. “Any such ballot can only be meaningful when the Government’s position on the referendum is clarified,” said Peter.


In a meeting last December, Peter told local government minister Eoghan Murphy there was no chance of winning support for his plans to bring 3,500 local authority workers under the control of Irish Water in the absence of a referendum to underpin public ownership and control of the utility. He said local authority staff feared the proposal could be a stepping stone to water privatisation unless a referendum took place first.


“At our meeting with the minister, we demanded that the Government speeds up proposals to have a constitutional referendum to guarantee that water services will always remain under democratic public control. We are deeply disappointed that the referendum has not been included in Government proposals for referenda next May,” he said.


Minister Murphy invited unions to engage in a WRC-assisted process aimed at creating a framework for the proposed move to a single water utility by 2021. This would be four years before the expiry of existing service level agreements (SLAs) between Irish Water and local councils.

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