Article from the Jan 2005 issue of the Socialist , newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

Building support for Non-payment

2005 WILL be a critical year for the We Won't Pay Campaign (WWP). The planned introduction of water charges is due in just 15 months. It is possible that the introduction may be delayed for six to twelve months because of legal complications and nervousness about non-payment, but the Campaign cannot afford to be lackadaisical.

Without well-organised local groups, and organised non-payment, water charges will not be defeated. It is important that all the local groups meet up to discuss mobilising for the 12 Feb protests and to continue the door-to-door activity to sign everyone in the area to the non-payment pledge and recruit to the Campaign.

This work is taking place across the North and people from many areas are always contacting the Campaign to organise in their own areas. If you want to set up a local WWP group in your area, contact us and we will help you organise a public meeting. The Campaign will produce posters and leaflets to distribute in your area and will supply speakers.

Local parties supported charges

OVER THE last few months, local politicians, especially from Sinn Fein and the SDLP, have continued to publicly curse each other for allowing water charges to be introduced. However these mutual recriminations have only helped expose the fact that all the parties gave a green light to water charges.

Sinn Fein spokesperson Francie Molloy blames the SDLP for conceding to the principle of water charges when SDLP leader Mark Durkan, alongside David Trimble, negotiated the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative (RRI). The RRI included such conditions as privatisation of services, increases in rates and the introduction of water charges.

SDLP spokesperson Margaret Ritchie denies that the RRI had anything to do with water charges. Yet the RRI was followed immediately by a consultation paper called the Review of Rating Policy (produced by SDLP Minister Sean Farren) which clearly shows that the Assembly Executive had agreed in principle to introduce water charges.

We Won't Pay Campaign members challenged Margaret Ritchie at a Coalition Against Water Charges meeting with the facts about the SDLP's role in agreeing in principle to introduce water charges and she failed to answer.

However, Ritchie correctly argues that Sinn Fein along with the DUP and the UUP also agreed the RRI and the Review of Rating Policy document in the Executive. Even the Committee for Finance & Personnel, which was chaired by Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy, gave its support to the Review of Rating Policy! Francie Molloy is also on record stating his support for water meters. Supporting water metering is in reality supporting water charging.

The right-wing sectarian parties have now been forced to oppose water charges and privatisation. But none of them support mass non-payment as the only way to defeat the water charges.

We need to rely on our own strength to defeat the charges, not put our trust in the politicians.

Getting rich from the charges

THE GOVERNMENT is paying a massive 30,000 of public money every week to lawyers for legal advice concerning the introduction of water charges and the privatisation of the water service. Minister John Spellar blames the people of Northern Ireland for not paying enough taxes for public services, yet he has no qualms with giving lawyers more in one week than most workers would make in a whole year!

It is estimated that top law firm Herbert Smith has already been paid 1.1million and could end up being paid a total of 3.75m by April 2006. Herbert Smith is a global law firm which has an average profit per partner of 700,000 a year.

They boast on their website that they "played a central role in the privatisation of the water industry in England & Wales". This comes as no surprise considering they employ former Thatcherite Cabinet Minister and EU Commissioner, Lord Leon Brittan as a consultant.

Easy to see who is going to benefit from water charges!

Building in the communities

THE LAST few months have seen the We Won't Pay Campaign extend its membership and support base. Local groups have been formed and are carrying out work in their own areas.

The Campaign is now mobilising support for the day of action on Saturday 12 February which was called by the Coalition Against Water Charges.

More people than ever are organising activities and meetings for the WWP. In Cookstown, several WWP meetings have taken place and door-to-door activity, signing people up to the non-payment pledge and to the Campaign, has begun. In one area of Cookstown, two members recruited 65 people on one road.

In the Cregagh Estate in Belfast, a local community activist has distributed material to everyone in the estate and is organising the first public meeting in the area.

The Campaign received frontpage headlines in Dromore Co. Down after a very successful meeting. 30 people came along and 19 people paid their membership fee.

A meeting in Andersonstown in West Belfast also resulted in a number of community activists joining and agreeing to build the campaign in the area. Public meetings are also being organised in the Ormeau area of Belfast, Newtownards Road area, Downpatrick, Dungannon, Lisnaskea, Enniskilen, Derry and other areas in the next few weeks.

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