Minister for Housing open to holding water referendum

Irish Congress of Trade Unions say they have a ‘commitment’ from Government

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said that although he supported the holding of a referendum as soon as possible, “the big parties in here have no intention of giving a referendum”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said that although he supported the holding of a referendum as soon as possible, “the big parties in here have no intention of giving a referendum”. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Minster for Housing Eoghan Murphy has said that he is willing to facilitate the holding of a referendum on the ownership of the public water system.

In correspondence with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) in January, the Minister said there were strong legal protections against the privatisation of water. “Notwithstanding these provisions, I am willing to facilitate the holding of a referendum,” he said.

“There are issues around the timing of such a referendum in the first half of 2018, and challenges in framing the wording in such a way as to avoid adverse and unintended consequences,” Mr Murphy added.

He also pointed out that the question of a referendum was before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The Department of Housing said as set out in the Government’s Water Services Policy statement 2018-2025, published last month, “the Minister has indicated his willingness to facilitate the holding of a referendum if a robust wording can be agreed, and where this does not have unintended consequences for group and private water services”.

Liam Berney of the Ictu told the Oireachtas committee on Thursday that it has “a commitment” from the Government to hold a referendum. He pointed out that the Minister for Housing had said “he was happy to facilitate the holding of a referendum”.

“However, he wished to facilitate the holding of a referendum on the removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution in the first instance,” Mr Berney said.

“Now that has been done, as far as we’re concerned, there is nothing preventing a speedy passage of the legislation required for the holding of the referendum through the Oireachtas and the holding of the referendum quite frankly in our view, could be facilitated in this calendar year.”

Ownership

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said he agreed there should be a referendum.

“I agree and concur with the views of the Minister here and indeed everybody here that has spoken, and it’s that there should be a referendum that the ownership of the company, that the shareholders will only and ever can only be the State,” he said. “I will absolutely support that.”

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said while he supported the holding of a referendum as soon as possible, “the big parties in here have no intention of giving a referendum”.

“I think you got one answer there from the Minister. I’d be very interested to see if the Taoiseach gave the same answer because any time I’ve heard him speak on the issue, he’s not looking at having a referendum on that any time soon,” he said.

Last October, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ruled out a referendum on ownership of the public water system. He said any urgency for such a poll was gone.

“Privatising our public water services is like suggesting that somebody might want to privatise our national schools,” he said at the time. “It is impossible and absurd.”