On Saturday I took the train down to Dublin for a Right2Water Demonstration, without any particular thought of being a photographer…or else I’d have taken more batteries! There had been talk of maybe 15,000 people attending; the last demo that I went on in Dublin was on a day of worldwide protests about GMO crops, and all of 300 people turned up…… I seriously thought my demonstrating days might be over!
When I arrived, Dublin was at a standstill, and at the end of the day it was estimated that there was at least 100,000 people there….certainly, when I went to catch my train home, after three hours, with batteries dead and me exhausted too, the last of the march had only recently left the Start place, and the beginning of the march was yet to arrive back.
There were professional banners made by a whole range of left wing political parties, Unions, and Campaign groups, campaigns against Fracking, and against mandatory fluoride in our water, (a crime! No other country in Europe adds fluoride, though I believe some American States do.), but what captivated me was the home-made signs folk had brought.
Note overhead helicopter. The PPS refers to people’s individual National Insurance numbers; now, Irish Water is NOT a Government body, it’s a semi-privatised, For Profit company, and has no statutory right to ask for PPS numbers….The Irish Government is a shambles when it comes to bringing in Household charges, Water charges, etc, as it appears to have no central records of who lives where, who’s on a private water scheme, who has only a rainwater system (me),etc, . In the event, they are trying to frighten people to sign up for a water tax, by threatening to cut people’s water down to a trickle…. learning from Detroit? Shameful!
Then there’s the matter of the water meters they are installing, with no consent sought from householders, and reports that they emit radiation, a real health hazard.
Money for water has been taken from Road Tax, (whilst the roads are in a parlous state); from Income tax, (which hits middle income folk the worst), from VAT, which is rated very high here, and from Property tax. Meanwhile, there is a vast amount of water lost in leaks, in an antiquated infrastructure which needs urgently to be overhauled.
The Irish people are picking up the tab for 47% (!) of the Banker’s Bailout in Europe…the gap between the Haves and Have-nots grows ever wider. Pensioners, Carers and Education are all facing cutbacks, and the way that the Water Tax has been brought in is the last straw for many folk. It was remarkable how people of all ages, and from all walks of life and all areas of Ireland, came together….Thank God there was no rain, and the atmosphere was wonderful.
Of course, the whole issue of water begs a LOT of questions…
Would people have come out in their thousands to protest for people the world over who have no access to clean water? Probably not.
Should the Government have been educating people about how clean water is a precious commodity, and finding ways to encourage people about how to conserve water, and not to waste it? Undoubtedly.
Should Government be more transparent about how all the various taxes people pay are utilised? Of course.
Are water charges inherently wrong? I’ll stick my neck out and hesitantly say not necessarily, because although water IS a Human Right, purifying water is no doubt costly, and essential to a nation’s health. However, denial of water to people who cannot afford to pay is wrong, and could cause even more health problems which would tax the health service.
Irish people have always ‘paid’ for water via other taxes; perhaps charges would be more acceptable if presented in a transparent way, and designed to be a completely fair system. Perhaps.
We’re seeing wars over oil, and protecting oil pipelines, worldwide, but future wars will be about water.
About 4 years ago I objected to an American friend about American Big Business bribing tinpot dictators in Africa, to be allowed to privatise their water supplies…Why were they wanting to sell water to Africans? She said “don’t be naive, Charlie, it’s for when America is short of clean water, and they’ll ship it to America.” I had read that 40% of American fresh water was irrevocably polluted….you can’t wash water. In campaigning against Fracking I’d come across the quote “All the water there will ever be, already is.”
To end, here’s a photo of a dear friend, and the wonderful water pump he carved in wood.
And the story behind the making of it, in his words.
“I was disappointed when I learned that all the trees on our street were to be cut down. Although many of these were old and nearing their life span, many were healthy and mature and gave a full leafy aspect in the summertime.
For the sake of enhancements to the footpaths, cyclepaths and the calming of traffic, the Council argued that more suitable new trees could replace the mature ones. The other reason given was, “the upgrade of utilities” which turned out to be a euphemism for water metering. So, in March of 2013 the tree cutters arrived and took out 40-50 years of mature growth, leaving dozens of stumps ready for removal as the roadworks got underway.
For years I have been photographing old cast iron pillar fonts all over Ireland, from which communities drew water as a shared public resource. Many around the country are still in working condition and others abandoned relics; https://www.flickr.com/photos/73371644@N04/
The question arises, are we to also to abandon the principal that water is a human right, owned by the citizens, only to be privatized and commodified for the benefit of some tax exile oligarch/overlord?
It struck me that the dimensions of the tree stumps which remained on the street resembled that of the pillar fonts and that a tree itself reaches down into the ground for water just as people did at communal wells in times past. I selected a stump, still putting out leaves in a last gasp at life, (which I had incidentally photographed the previous autumn) and determined to make a replica as an affirmation of shared social values in opposition to the kind of free-loader capitalism, monetizing everything for the benefit of the few.
And so I began carving on site with a vague notion that I would work there and allow people to see the piece take shape. The interest of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists was evident and many voiced their admiration and encouragement for the effort.
I decided not to seek any official or bureaucratic permission. The project had an exciting open endedness which I enjoyed. I was testing how far the conventions of the art system of selection, curation and approval could be circumvented and officialdom denied the policing of what is permitted as art. Inevitably and as expected it was not too long before a Council worker arrived and said the work could not continue.
A period of uncertainty followed. I asked the workers on the job if they could cut the stump out for me. Understandably, while always helpful and friendly, they were preoccupied with their work and vague about who might do it and and when, if ever, it might be done. I was always prepared that the work might come to nothing, except the satisfaction of having attempted it. The day came when the half-worked stump disappeared and I then reconciled that I had made a good try. Later, to my delight and surprise one of the workers called to me and infomed me that the stump was at the depot waiting for me to collect.
I set to work.
Now, after a year the sculpture is finished and ready for the ‘launch’. That is, the anti-water tax march, Dublin, Saturday, October 11th, 2014! Was this always my deadline?”