Kelly adopts ‘divide and conquer’ approach to water charges

Government has categorised citizens as either the compliant or the refuseniks

As far as the Government is concerned, citizens now fall into two distinct groups: the compliant and the refuseniks.

The first group contains those who have already committed to paying water charges, or are currently giving it serious consideration. The Government regards this group as the silent majority.

The second cohort contains people who, in the Coalition’s reckoning, can afford to pay but are refusing to do so. This group is dismissed as a vocal minority by the administration.

The Government, through the Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly and others, has clearly started speaking directly to the compliant.


A ‘divide and conquer’ approach has been adopted recently as the Government toughens its attitude to those who do not pay their water bills.

Details are in scarce supply, but moves are afoot to introduce strengthened compliance measures, including attachment orders on wages and welfare payments.

Ministers are pitting neighbour against neighbour in their public commentary on the matter.

Their message is a simple one: Is it fair that the woman sitting beside you on the bus, or the man in the house next door, is refusing to pay their way when you have forked out?

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin was in bullish form this morning when he confirmed the Government would introduce some manner of a mechanism to ensure people who comply with water charges are not disadvantaged.

The vast majority of people paid their way, he said, while others had “come to the conclusion there are things they don’t have to pay for”.

Simply deciding not to pay the bill could not be an option, Mr Howlin said.

And the colloquial example was back: “If you come to a supermarket check-out and say, ‘No, not paying the bill’ and walk off, that’s not the way the system works.”

But the way the system works is the problem for many protesters.

Leading anti-water charges protester Paul Murphy, the Socialist TD for Dublin West, this morning vocalised how the movement has become a catch-all for pent-up anger and frustration.

“We don’t have a real recovery for the majority in this country. Wages are absolutely stagnant. Those jobs that are being created…are over-whelmingly low-paid, precarious, short-term,” he told Morning Ireland.

“And that’s why people have all this anger on the question of the water charges.”

However, the Government’s view is that the bulk of people have accepted water charges in principle, albeit very reluctantly in some cases. Whether its toughened stance towards the refuseniks ramps up protesters’ anger levels remains to be seen.