Irish water levy protests escalate

Alan Kelly at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, 23 May 2013 [International Transport Forum/Flickr]

Alan Kelly at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany. 23 May 2013. [International Transport Forum/Flickr]

The constituency office of the Irish minister overseeing unpopular new water charges received a bomb threat on Monday (17 November), the latest escalation in Ireland’s most serious anti-austerity protests to date.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest against the government’s plans to levy direct charges on households to use water for the first time next year.

The water charges are the final piece of a €30 billion austerity drive that has cut spending by almost 20% of annual output since 2008, but they have provoked the biggest response of any measure.

While Ireland is forecasting GDP growth of 4.7% this year, the fastest in the euro zone, the protesters say ordinary working people are not feeling the benefits, but have suffered disproportionately from austerity.

Government ministers have been heckled at protests in recent days and Environment Minister Alan Kelly said a worker at his constituency office had received the telephone threat on Monday.

“This was a very traumatic and upsetting experience,” Kelly, a minister with the centre-left Labour Party, the junior partner in government, said in a statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton was trapped in her car for two hours on Saturday by a crowd including a recently elected member of parliament who is calling for a boycott of the charges.

Video footage from the protests showed her being hit by a balloon filled with water. She required a police escort to leave the scene.

Police in County Cork also began an investigation after two vans belonging to the local council were set on fire overnight. Images posted online showed the vans were marked as water service vehicles.

After months of uncertainty and increasing opposition, the government says the charges being unveiled on Wednesday will be lower than previously flagged, and will be fixed for a number of years.

Press reports have indicated that the government may cut the maximum charges from over €400 per year for some families to closer to €200.