As the water charges have been scrapped, Hannah Lemass found that the movement represents far more at the most recent Right2Water demonstration
On Thursday 13 April, the Dáil voted to formally end the current water charges regime.
The report of the Oireachtas committee on water charges was accepted by members of the Dail by 96 votes to 48.
The recommendations outlined in the report include refunding those who have already paid their water charges, installing water meters into new buildings and protecting public ownership of Irish Water under the constitution.
Article 4.4 of the report recommends setting the threshold of water usage at 1.7 times the average rate of consumption.
However, the report does state that legislation should make allowances for “extraordinary circumstances” such as medical conditions or above average household sizes.
Only households that use more than 589 litres of water a day will face charges or levies for excess use of water. As a result, approximately 92% of Irish households will not pay for their water use.
The vote followed a large demonstration in Dublin city centre on 8 April 2017. Thousands took part in the ninth Right2Water protest.
Protesters from across the country gathered at Connolly and Heuston stations before making their way to Dame Street to hear speeches from campaigners, TDs, trade unionists and poets.
A Fish out of Water
On a bright Saturday afternoon, protesters gathered in the belting sunshine outside Connolly Station.
Swimming above the heads of demonstrators was a skeletal mermaid like sculpture twisting slightly in the spring breeze.
John Renwick, founder and resident artist at ARTBANK Bunclody, explained that the artwork has been brought along to all of the right2water marches.
The sculpture, originally a representation of the Salmon of Knowledge, had evolved into a Fish out of Water “stripped back to the bone like we’ve basically been stripped back” said Mr Renwick.
The piece represents more than just the water movement. It also symbolises other issues such as homelessness and the plight of displaced children.
“It hasn’t been about water since last January. Well, it never has been, it’s about everything, it’s about change,“ Mr Renwick said.
The campaign to legalise medicinal cannabis was also highlighted at the rally.
Vera Twomey, a cannabis for medicinal use campaigner who completed a 260km protest walk from Cork to Dáil Éireann in March, addressed the crowd.
She spoke of the benefits of medical cannabis for her daughter Ava who suffers from severe epileptic seizures due to Dravet Syndrome.
“We want whole plant medicinal cannabis and we deserve it now.
My daughter started Charlotte’s Web CBD Oil [hemp oil] last October and her seizure count is down from 500 or more a month to three and four a month.
We are still getting them… Countries all over the world have access to THC [the principal psychoactive constituent or cannabinoid of cannabis] medication. Countries all over the world have access to first class medication that I am not allowed access for Ava.”
She called on the government to change the laws surrounding medicinal cannabis.
“…the legislation is prepared, the bill is there, waiting. The bill is being stalled and it has to stop. Simon Harris, there will be no stop until we get what we need for our family.”
A victory march
Sinn Fein Deputy Leader and TD Mary Lou McDonald also spoke to the crowd at Dame Street:
“The position of Irish men and women has been, from the beginning, that water is a human right and we have won that argument.
So to those in Fine Gael, or Fianna Fáil, or the Labour Party – if you remember them – who would lecture us about democracy, let’s say very clearly to them, this is what democracy looks like.”
Members of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) also stood on stage in hi-vis orange vests with banners sporting the union’s logo.
Mark Kavanagh spoke on their behalf. He condemned rural TDs for not supporting intercounty bus services, a matter he called more important than the dispute over terms and conditions.
“We’ve seen it first hand. Since 2009 after the financial crash, we’ve watched the decimation of rural transport through that big windscreen on the front of our bus.
We’ve seen routes and services being pulled out for the benefit of private operators.”
Poet and author Stephen Murphy later performed his poem Cead Mile Failte to the crowd.
The main theme of the poem looks at the homelessness situation in Ireland. It also reflected solidarity with the Bus Eireann strikers.
Murphy said to the crowd “hopefully we’ll be heard down in Busaras” then asked them to join him in saying the recurring line, “Stand clear. Luggage doors operating.”
The phrase is a recording that plays when Bus Eireann buses open and closes their luggage compartment doors.
The final speaker to take to the stage was poet, actor, and filmmaker Terry McMahon.
He made an impassioned speech about Irish austerity with particular reference to homelessness and suicide.
The line “Our [expletive] government have failed them [1916 revolutionaries]. Our dangerously psychotic, our cancerous kleptomaniac government. Our soon to be toppled government,” received a particularly rapturous cheer from the crowd.
The rally ended with the second of two songs from musician Glen Hansard.
He performed a rewritten version of the American folk song ‘This Land is Your Land’.
“As I went walking with my sisters, mothers, daughters to raise their voices about the Irish water. We raised our hearts too and we’ll pay you nothing,” he sang.
Many issues were raised at the rally by speakers and protesters. It is clear there is a large section of the population who are unhappy with current government policies.
Even with the compromises outlined in the recently accepted Oireachtas report, further protests are likely.
Featured image by Hannah Lemass