Monday, 17 January 2011

Bring water back into public control!

Jim Mc Veigh
SIPTU Community   

Over the Christmas period the severe weather spell here in the North of Ireland brought misery to tens of thousands of families.  That misery was compounded by the abject failure of NI Water, a semi privatised arms length government quango, to adequately respond to the crisis.  As a consequence tens of thousands of homes and businesses found themselves without water for days and in some cases weeks.

The minister responsible for NI Water is Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy, and he has instituted an investigation into what went wrong and who was responsible.  That investigation is due to report back quickly.

While we await those specific findings it is worth examining the legacy of neglect and under investment in the water supply infrastructure in the North under consecutive Westminster governments, both Tory and Labour.

(One of the many 'water queues' over Christmas)

Over recent decades both London parties pursued an ideologically driven policy of privatisation and hollowing out public services or publicly owned organisations.  This has led to hundreds of skilled workers in the water service losing their jobs and much of the work handed to private companies. 

In the case of NI Water, the service was taken out of direct public ownership and scrutiny.  When the more recent crisis struck, NI Water was unable to cope and instead went into meltdown, as too few workers struggled, in some cases valiantly, to restore supply.  In many instances, private contractors reaped the financial benefits of privatisation.

The Minister in question has indicated his and his parties desire is to see NI Water taken back into full public ownership and for the decades of neglect under British direct rule to be reversed.  Trade unionists North and South, including SIPTU, must make their voices heard on this issue.  The public ownership not just of our broken banking system but also of our vital public services, such as water, is something that many ordinary citizens now demand.

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