FF urged to back referendum to keep water in public ownership

Joan Collins’s proposed Bill has support of 39 TDs, plus Right2Water and some unions

Joan Collins: The Independent TD will table legislation for a referendum to amend article 28 of the Constitution. Photograph: Collins Courts

Joan Collins: The Independent TD will table legislation for a referendum to amend article 28 of the Constitution. Photograph: Collins Courts


Fianna Fáil may support a Bill to hold a referendum to ensure that water services remain in public ownership.

Party housing spokesman Barry Cowen said Fianna Fáil will consider the legislation, which is to be tabled in the Dáil by Independent TD Joan Collins. He said the issue will be discussed at next week’s parliamentary party meeting.

“The confidence and supply arrangement that Fianna Fáil agreed with Fine Gael commits to retaining Irish Water as a national utility in public ownership,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring the delivery of water services remains in public ownership.

“We will have to study the Bill and decide whether a referendum is warranted or whether it can be done by strengthening existing legislation,” Mr Cowen added. “We will explore that over the weekend.”

Ms Collins has tabled the 35th Amendment to the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) Bill 2016.

The Bill proposes a referendum to amend article 28 of the Constitution as follows: “The Government shall be collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system. The Government shall ensure in the public interest that this resource remains in public ownership and management.”

Party support

The proposed legislation is supported by 39 TDs, including Independents and members of Sinn Féin and AAA-PBP, as well as the Right2Water campaign and affiliated trade unions.

Ms Collins has urged Fianna Fáil to back the Bill.

“The question of who should own Ireland’s water falls outside the terms of reference for the expert commission, but public ownership was supported by Fianna Fáil during the recent election,” she said.

“After the uncertainty of recent years the people of Ireland are entitled to a guarantee that their water will remain in public ownership,” Ms Collins said. “This Bill allows for that, which is why it has broad support inside and outside the Dáil. It will pass if Fianna Fáil back it.”

As part of the confidence and supply arrangement agreed with Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil secured the establishment of an expert commission to examine the future of water charges.

It was due to report back by the end of November, but there is some speculation it will come sooner.

Manifesto commitment

Fianna Fáil’s general election manifesto committed to abolishing both Irish Water and water charges.

However, at the launch of the manifesto in February, party leader Micheál Martin said it would be a five-year suspension and the position would be reviewed in 2021.

Last month the party made a submission to the expert commission examining water charges that signalled a shift in its position. The party said water charges could not remain and it would support their abolition. This was repeated by Mr Martin in a radio interview.

Mr Cowen, however, insisted there had been no shift in the party’s position since the general election.