[Sinn Fein]

3rd July 2003

Sinn Fein vow to continue opposing introduction of water charges

Former Chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, Cllr Francie Molloy speaking at the publication of Sinn Fein's response to the consultation on water reform has vowed to continue the campaign to halt the introduction of water charges.

Mr Molloy said:

``Sinn Fein is totally opposed to the imposition of water charges. We see water charges as an additional tax.

``We believe that the introduction of such charges has more to do with British Treasury insistence on further taxation than EU directives or misleading comparisons with the British level of rates.

``People have already been paying for their water services for water through their rates bill.

``The terms of the debate set out in the consultation were totally unsatisfactory. There is an assumption that the introduction of a water tax is a foregone conclusion and the debate was about what mechanism will be used for paying.

``But the case has not been made that a separate direct water charge is either justified or will lead to improvements in water services or lead to a reduction in the usage or wastage of water.

``After 30 years of under investment our water and sewerage services here are drastically underdeveloped and are incapable of meeting international and European health and safety standards. The result is that we now require a major investment in our infrastructure.

``What is required is a long-term injection of public money to bring our water services up to date with stringent European legislation. Money from the EU, money from the rates and money from the British Exchequer were misused by direct rule ministers after being ring fenced by Alf Dubs.

``In short people are being expected to pay for decades of neglect on the part of successive direct rule administrations, which has resulted in the unacceptable deterioration of a critical service.''

North Belfast representative Cathy Staunton said:

``The proposed charges will fall outside the rate rebate system - there would be no relief for low-income households in any system of charging for water and sewerage services in any of the options suggested by the consultation.

``The introduction of a uniform charge is regressive - lower income households would pay proportionally more of their disposable income on this charge.

A charge based on the value of the property would discriminate against those who live in high rateable value homes. A combination of both would still have the regressive affect because it takes no account the consumer's ability to pay.

``None of the three options in the consultation places any onus on the Water Services to reduce the level of water wastage. Individuals are instead being penalised for under investment in the water system and poor performance.

``Across the political spectrum, throughout the trade union movement and right across the six counties there is widespread opposition to the imposition of water charges.

``At council level, in representations to the varies direct rule ministers and in support of campaigns organised by the Campaign Against Water Taxation and the Trade Unions Sinn Fein will continue to oppose the introduction of water charges.''

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