[Sinn Fein]

11th March 2003

Water Charges will hit poorest hardest

Sinn Fein former Chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, Francie Molloy  has criticised the handling of the Water Charges by British direct rule Minister Angela Smith.

Mr Molloy said:

``Water Charges of 400 per household will hit people who are least able to pay hardest. Water Charges will not be eligible for the rate rebate system so people on low incomes and particularly people on benefits will proportionately pay the most. That is clearly unfair and unacceptable.

``If we look models like the Welsh not-for-profit model there was considerable investment prior to moving to the self-financing. Whereas we have had three decades of under investment. Without substantial prior investment people will be paying for the inefficiency of the Water Service.

``These proposals do not rule out privatisation. Privatisation would mitigate against the levels of investment required to bring our water service up to scratch. The concern it that this is really a mechanism for the backdoor privatisation of our water supply.

``It was clear that the SDLP finance ministers were pushing ahead with this at the behest of the British Treasury - a succession of weak SDLP finance Ministers have sold us down the river on this. When we come to unpicking this disaster it will be remembered as the SDLP tax.

``3 billion is needed to bring our water services up to scratch but privatisation is not the answer. Privatisation will particularly hit people living in rural communities.

``Angela Smith looks to be considering all options but unless local people and politicians work together that we will see yet another direct rule trainee minister impose yet another bad decision. This will be the third bad decision bad by direct rule ministers. Ian Pearson forced flawed housing legislation through Westminster, Des Browne sold the West of the Bann short on hospitals and Angela Smith now looks set to get it wrong by imposing water charges.

``Local politicians and local people need to say no to this now. Unless these proposals are rejected we will be shackled with these water charges that will hit those least able to pay hardest and not solve the problem of decades of under investment.''

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