Water – The straw that broke the camels back?

One of the major comments about the Irish people during the recent financial crisis and recession, was that there was no vocal, angry oppoistion on the street. This was a major factor in much instability faced by other countries faced with tough decisions because of the financial crash.

But why in Ireland, just as the recovery is starting to gain momentum, are now the Irish people protesting on the street?

Major protests are planned for today around the country against the implementation of water charges. The past number of weeks have been dominated by stories about Irish Water, its excesses, its board, the protests at installations and of course bonuses.

It is harder and harder for anyone to defend the mishandling of Irish Water, whether as a Government party supported or you see the need behind the introduction of water charges.

Irish people over the last number of years have made monumental sacrifices. Some have lost jobs, others seen the young people in their family leave for a better life elsewhere, while others have taken jobs they never thought they would do. We have seen higher taxes with USC, property charges and a range of other measures to shore up the Public Finances.

Water seems to be different. Why does a water utility need our PPS number? Why do we need to pay for our meter to be read if we are moving out? Why will callouts cost so much? Why will staff be paid bonuses when there is no benchmark for improvements?

There is a range of questions there that have no satisfactory answers. That has led to some misinformation, confusion and anger among ordinary Irish people, which I have not seen in my lifetime.

This is a wake up call for the Government and Irish Water. When dealing with the public you need to be open and honest. Only ask for the information you really need.

While I will not be protesting this weekend, I have some sympathy with those who do and believe the Government need to take a look again at Irish Water.

Otherwise this Government will face one of the biggest actions of Civil Disobedience this country has ever seen.

The Awakening Euromed Consciousness

Satellite caption of the Mediterranean Sea.
Image via Wikipedia

As protests inspired by Tunisia move across the Middle East, with protests in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, its hard to imagine that a few years ago these protests would not have been tolerated, let alone successful as we have seen in Tunisia.

Since getting involved in the Anna Lindh Foundation I have met many people from these countries bordering the Mediterranean. Some of these people, while proud of their countries and their heritage, were not happy with their Governments. Whether it be lack of Women’s Rights or controls on internet access, these people wanted more. They wanted freedom and they wanted a say in how their lives were run.

This is what is amazing about these protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. The people have seen what can be done. They have seen that change can be brought about with revolution.

This is a hard lesson for the ruling elites in these countries who are quite used to not being challenged. They are now facing the challenge that will cement their memory in the national consciousness of these countries. Either a memory of a Government that will not listen to its people and put down the protests, or of a Government willing to change, it meet the protester’s demands, either in part or full.

In the title I made use of the phrase “Euromed Consciousness”. I used this because while these countries share a common Arab and Muslim Heritage, it is through their contacts across the Mediterranean that these people have realised that more is possible. That freedom is available. These people do not want to leave their countries. They want them to be modern societies with the rights, freedoms and technology available to those across that small sea.

Whether or not the European mindset have contributed to these protests, these protests prove the effectiveness of modern technology in organising people against their governments. Facebook, twitter, mobile phones and the internet in general has galvanised people and have ensured mass turn outs in Liberty Square in Cairo and other cities across Egypt, Tunisia and the Middle East.

As these protests become successful, expect more to happen in other sates where the Government have left their people behind.