Socialist Worker

Underfunding and cuts lie behind Northern Ireland’s water disaster

Issue No. 2233

Over 50,000 homes in Northern Ireland had no water over the holiday. Thousands of homes went without water for more than a week.

Some have been living without drinking water and unable to flush their toilets for almost two weeks.

Others have had their homes flooded with raw sewage.

Many of the pipes supplying water to homes—some of them up to 60-years old—burst when temperatures dropped to minus 18C before warming to 10C in just 24 hours.

At one point the nationalised company Northern Ireland Water shut off supplies to two hospitals.

The authorities’ remarkable response to the events has been to push for privatisation.

The Tories and the Northern Ireland executive have used the crisis to argue for the introduction of water charges.

The prospect of mass resistance if such charges were introduced has meant that they have not been brought in before now.

Campaigners point out that water is funded out of the rates that people pay.

Some have argued that it was the inefficiencies of nationalisation that led to the Christmas water shortages.

But, on a smaller scale, there were thousands without water in Wales, Worcestershire and Yorkshire at the same time. Privatised companies are responsible for providing water to their homes.

The problems with Northern Ireland Water lie in a lack of money from the government.

There has been less than half the level of investment in Northern Ireland’s water infrastructure compared to Britain’s.

Northern Ireland Water was made into a company in 2004, while the plans for water charges were dropped.

A series of job cuts saw more than half its workers lose their jobs in the last six years.

Whole sections of the company have been outsourced, including customer service. What investment there has been has come through public-private partnership.

Remarkably, a week before the crisis broke, the water regulator was demanding cuts of 40 percent.

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Article information

Tue 4 Jan 2011, 17:30 GMT
Issue No. 2233
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