What is the real attitude of Sinn Féin to the imposition of water charges in Ireland? Are they wholly opposed to them or are they, to borrow a phrase from elsewhere, sneaking regarders? Certainly the party took a curiously cautious line in the press following the creation in 2013 of a public service utility company, Uisce Eireann – Irish Water, to manage the new system of water taxation. Some SF TDanna and councillors shied away from an outright rejection of the utility’s establishment and nearly all fudged demands that they support the non-payment campaign. Arguably Sinn Féin’s stance only became clear when they realised the hostility amongst the general public towards the passing of an intimidatory form of “double-taxation” (not to mention towards Irish Water itself, and the corruption and patronage many suspect lurks in the background of its development). Indeed, some believe that the electoral successes of rival “no-pay” left-wing parties did more to goad SF out into the open than any sudden ideological rush of blood to the head. Hence the prominence of placard-waving activists from Sinn Féin at the more voluble anti-austerity marches of recent times.
Now SF’s attitude to water charges has been thrown into doubt again by a recent vote in the European Parliament. Putting to one side the partisan-reporting of the Irish Independent newspaper RTÉ take’s up the story:
“Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan has rejected Fine Gael claims that her party backed a proposal for water charges at the European Parliament today.
Ms Boylan was presenting a report on a ‘Right2Water’ initiative in the parliament this afternoon.
The report calls on the commission to table legislative proposals to recognise that “affordable access to water is a basic human right”.
However, Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness described the move as a “blatant U-turn” by Sinn Féin.
She said Paragraph 92 in Ms Boylan’s report on the initiative calls on member states to ensure they are “providing for the application of a progressive charge that is proportional to the amount of water used”, which the four Sinn Féin MEPs voted in favour of.
However, Ms Boylan said she had not written that part of the report, which is a compromise document which had received over 250 amendments.
Ms Boylan said Fine Gael MEPs were the only Irish MEPs to vote against the report.”
It seems a curious thing for Sinn Féin MEPs to do at this time, given the poor optics for a domestic audience, however the party newspaper claims that:
“Sinn Féin’s position is clear – we are absolutely opposed to domestic water charges. The wording they mention came from another political group. Sinn Féin did not vote in favour of the wording in question during the committee stage and unfortunately Fine Gael have blocked all attempts to remove the wording in the plenary. This report is a compromise document which received over 250 amendments from all the different political groups yet we managed to keep most but not all the progressive elements.”