One of the most pressing issues in Ireland and one I do not fully understand is a proposal for water charges. From my understanding, the Irish government is proposing water charges for water use in homes across Ireland, a by-amount charge they do not currently receive, as it is viewed as a public resource. There has been a huge backlash from many citizens, either politically or fundamentally opposed to the idea, or who simply do not want to pay for water.
It seemed like an incredibly interesting debate at first. I have witnessed large protest marches and many people simply standing in the middle of busy downtown intersections, with honking cars for miles, with a sign saying “no water charges.” At some point recently though, these protests went from intriguing to comical to me. After hearing the government’s justifications, it just makes sense. Citizens in just about every Western country pays for water, and the charges could also be seen as potentially eco-friendly. But if it is hurting someone’s wallet, you know there will be some backlash.
I was actually fortunate enough to experience this debate firsthand. My cousin set me up with a visit to the Irish Parliament in Dublin city centre, called the House of Oireachtas, which consists of the Dail, or House, and Seanad, or Senate. There I was met by a member of the staff of my cousin’s TD, Derek Keating. I was given a guided tour of their House and Senate, which was a lot smaller and more intimate. We had a cup of tea at one of two bars inside of the building. I even got to sit in on a committee hearing regarding coverage on the national television station, RTE.
The coolest part of the visit, however, was sitting in on the Dail for Leader’s Questions. This is a procedure where a representative from each opposition party is given the opportunity to publicly ask the Prime Minister two questions. I got to witness the two main Irish political figures I was familiar with duke it out with words: Enda Kenny, Prime Minister, and Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein with strong IRA ties and a reputation stemming from “The Troubles” of the late 20th Century. They were debating about, what else, Irish water. Adams did make some interesting points against the measure but he did not change my mind.
The visit to the Dail was interesting and gave me a better understanding of numerous issues in Ireland including the water argument. The day was topped off when I met the opposition leader, Michael Martin, on my way out of the building. My cousin told me that there is a good chance he will be the next Taoiseach, or Prime Minister. I will spend my final weeks here enjoying my water, but I would not be upset if I have to start paying for it!