Trinity students voted not to refuse to pay water charges at a debate held by the University Philosophical Society last night. The motion “This House Would Refuse to Pay the Water Charges” was narrowly defeated following a well-contested debate made up entirely of Trinity students. The sole guest speaker, Mark Egan, a representative from Ballymun Says No, was a late cancellation.
Oisín Vince Coulter, a JS student of Classics and Philosophy, opened the case for the proposition, calling the water charge an “unjust and regressive austerity tax” that as a flat rate would hit the poorest the hardest. He described how many in Ireland were already living in poverty and simply could not afford to pay for what, citing the United Nations, should be a human right. He was met with a forceful interjection from Rachel O’Byrne who, likewise concerned with the interests of the poor, argued that refusing to pay now would result in paying double in six months’ time. Vince Coulter disagreed, believing that the protesters could be successful and plans for a water charge ultimately scrapped.
O’Byrne, like the rest of the opposition, agreed that access to water was a fundamental human right but nevertheless thought that “paying for water is a good thing.” The SF Law student explained that water charges, though only a “minimal tax”, would provide the funds for the water quality to be improved nationwide, as well as encouraging people to curb their consumption. The second proposition speaker, Peter Gowan, sought to address these points. He argued that however minimal you consider the charges now, “2019 is the point where all these caps will run out.” He argued that there is no guarantee charges would not skyrocket after this point.
Of course, with water charges such an emotive issue for many voters, this is something any future government will be wary of doing. The second opposition speaker, Shannon Buckley Barnes, a SF Law and Political Science student, raised this point. She then called the anti-water charges protestors “violent and vicious” and for this reason didn’t “want to align myself with them, so I’d rather pay.” If people in the countryside take issue with water charges, Buckley Barnes said, they can “build their own wells.” Michael Barton, the late stand-in on the proposition for Egan, countered, “If you live on the fourth floor, you’re going to have a hard time building a well.” He also contested the idea that water charges would improve quality: in the current proposals, he argued, “there are no plans to fix the quality of the water. It is insulting to be asked to pay for water which is undrinkable.”
Cormac Henehan closed the proposition case, and argued that there is a class of people who cannot and therefore should not pay. “We need to stand in solidarity with those people.” The final two opposition speakers, Fionn McGorry and Vice-President of the Philosophical Society Hannah Beresford, instead suggested that government itself is the community Henehan imagined. McGorry argued that refusal to pay water charges was a “slippery slope” indicative of a “a future in which the government can no longer rely on the consent of its citizens.” He said that he believed that “this subversion of the state” could be more dangerous to Ireland in the long term than water charges.
Photo: Tadgh Healy