Water services workers in Cork City Council and Cork County Council took to the streets of the city centre this afternoon opposing what they say is a ‘premature’ ending of a service level agreement (SLA) changing the future of water services.
Under the Government’s framework for the future of water services, Irish Water is to assume responsibility for all water services.
Between now and 2026, some 3,200 local authority water services staff will be asked to voluntarily transfer to Irish Water as permanent employees.
More than 250 Cork water workers and their supporters marched through the streets of Cork city today in opposition to attempts to transfer them over to Irish Water next January. Any such move would greatly increase the danger of privatisation and water charges by the back door. pic.twitter.com/POTUOiCAV3— Mick Barry TD (@MickBarryTD) July 23, 2022
Those who do not wish to transfer to Irish Water can continue in local authority employment.
However, Irish Water will have responsibility for managing and directing water workers even if they remain in local authority employment.
It is the Government’s ambition that local authorities will no longer have staff working in water services beyond the end of 2026.
After this, local authority staff would be redeployed “to other areas within local authorities”.
By the end of 2026, local authorities will no longer be involved in the public water system and staff would be reassigned to suitable vacancies in other areas of council work.
John Mullins, a water services worker with Cork City Council who helped to organise the protest, said he and his colleagues felt they had no other option but to take to the streets to bring their concerns to public attention.
“What this framework effectively means is that all public service water provision will be handed over to Irish Water on January 1, 2023, even though there is a service level agreement in place until 2026,” Mr Mullins claimed.
Speaking following the protest, which took place on Grand Parade, he said the event was well supported with hundreds in attendance.
Mr Mullins said while there were “a number of strands” to the protest, the main one was the “premature ending of the service level agreement”.
"Our unions are telling us we’re not getting a vote on it,” he added.
Protestors in attendance were also calling on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O'Brien to commit to a date for a referendum on water ownership.
“We’re looking for Minister Darragh O’Brien to come out and publicly state when the referendum will be held because what we fear, and it’s a genuine fear, is that if the service level agreement ends prematurely, the Government then will have no need to bring in a referendum because they will have got what they wanted which is the transfer over to Irish Water and if there is no referendum Irish Water can then be sold off at any time,” he said.
Mr Mullins said there is a concern that if Irish Water was sold off this could pave the way for water charges to be brought in.
Speaking ahead of the protest, Socialist Party TD Mick Barry and Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould had asked people to support the march through the streets of Cork city centre.
Both had said a referendum on public ownership of water is needed to protect against any future threat of privatisation.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said public ownership "remains central to the Government’s vision for water services".
"There is no change in policy in relation to public ownership.
"In fact, section 2 of the Water Services Act 2014 prevents a current or future Government from initiating any legislative proposals that would seek to transfer Irish Water from public ownership, unless such proposals are first approved by a majority vote of the Irish people in a national plebiscite.
"The matter of a referendum on water ownership continues to be under active consideration as a broader policy concern relevant to the water sector transformation process in line with the Government Policy Paper," the spokesperson continued.