So the tune has changed in recent weeks. Minister for Finance & Personnel Nigel Dodds claimed in April “it is impossible at a time of great economic hardship and challenges for businesses and communities and hardworking families that you could impose these kinds of burdens on people.”
It was the We Won’t Pay Campaign which beat the arguments of direct rule Ministers that people in Northern Ireland do not pay for water. The parties in Stormont had to accept that households already paid for water through the rates. This fact has also restricted their ability to justify water charges as they would need to be seen to reduce rates, which is now virtually ruled out given the Executive’s fiscal crisis.
Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy has proposed to the Executive that water charges be deferred, yet again, until 2012 (after the next Assembly elections). The We Won’t Pay Campaign has called for the Executive to formally announce the scrapping of water charges. It has now been proven that water charges are not needed to secure funding for the water service. The reason for water charges was never about funding the service. The real reason was to prepare a revenue flow so the water service could be privatised. If a decision is taken to defer water charges yet again, the We Won’t Pay Campaign can proudly proclaim a great victory.