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Understandably for the 10,000 people of Cavan Monaghan, most of whom re-elected Fianna Fail, their water has been poisoned with Phenol, and their confidence in the quality of what comes out of their taps is shaken. They don't understand why it took at least three weeks from when the problem was first noticed to when a ban was put in place. They are mystified as to why their county councils would sign a twenty year contract with Veolia when the company was not properly certified. But most of all they are worried about what had been going into the water for the two years that Veolia was supplying them water before this problem occurred.

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/investigate/1142378.html

Water Poisoning in Monaghan

Cavan/Monaghan Water Poisoning

Blisters and open sores on the mouth and tongue. Stomach cramps and diarrhoea. Flaking skin. Just some of the conditions endured by hundreds who drank contaminated water in Cavan and Monaghan in March and April.

The RTÉ Radio Investigative Unit has established that their drinking water was contaminated with a toxic and caustic chemical - Phenol. The phenol was originally an unwanted by-product from the mining industry.

From mining industry to drinking water!
In Cork a company called Cognis manufacture a chemical that is used to extract copper from copper ore. There is an unwanted by-product in this manufacturing process . it is an aluminium chloride solution. Aluminium Chloride can be used as a Coagulant to extract solid matter from water. The product Cognis was producing had to be filtered to remove phenol.

Cognis sell their Aluminium Chloride to the environmental solutions company just down the road from them in Ringaskiddy called Enva. They say that they sell it to Enva with the proviso that it is not to be used in the treatment of drinking water . only the treatment of waste water (sewage).

Cognis Cork: Sold tainted
product for about €1 a ton

Enva sell aluminiumchloride for the treatment of waste water. However the technical data sheet they supplied with their product, which the Radio Investigative Unit has seen, said that it was suitable for the treatment of drinking water. Aluminium chloride sold to the operators of the group water schemes in Cavan and Monaghan by Enva was tainted with Phenol.

Enva: Sold the product
on for €173 a ton

We found the tainted aluminium chloride that was shipped to Cavan and Monaghan. I took samples and brought them to the Chemistry department in UCD where the PhD students ran them through a mass spectrometer. This product which should have been pure aluminium chloride contained all sorts of impurities from acetic acid to aromatic compounds and lots of phenol. One of the 1000 litre drum I examined contained as much as 12 litres of phenol.

Analysis found 12 litres
of phenol in each container

Price seems to be the key thing here. Cognis won't tell us exactly how much they sell to Enva for. But I understand from industry insiders that it's for a pittance .. Around about a euro a tonne. Enva then sold it on for about €170. A 1700% mark up. But that is still about half of what everybody else is selling it for.

Ultimately the end user, Veolia, (who run the group water schemes) has a duty of care which they didn't meet. The National Standards Authority told me that Veolia are supposed to ensure that the chemicals added to the water are certified under European guidelines, this chemical wasn't.

Veolia: Didn't follow
EU guidelines


Nobody to blame?
Cognis say they sold Enva this product on the clear understanding that it was not to be used for the treatment of drinking water. Their annual report from 2004 appears to say precisely the opposite:

Veolia were the company who ultimately put the tainted Aluminium Chloride into the water in Cavan and Monaghan. They are the largest Water Services Provider in the world. They have been in this business for over 100 years.

Veolia: Providing water services
all around the globe

They knew that the product they were adding to the water was not certified under EU guidelines. Presumably they were also aware that the product they were purchasing was a third cheaper than the properly certified product. In response to our investigation they say that the guidelines for certified products were only guidelines and not statutory requirements. However they are now using properly certified products.

Local Anger
Understandably for the 10,000 people whose water was poisoned with Phenol their confidence in the quality of what comes out of their taps is shaken. They don't understand why it took at least three weeks from when the problem was first noticed to when a ban was put in place. They are mystified as to why their county councils would sign a twenty year contract with Veolia when the company was not properly certified. But most of all they are worried about what had been going into the water for the two years that Veolia was supplying them water before this problem occurred.

Where has all the Phenol gone?- into the Lakes of Monaghan Cavan.!

What next?
The environment minister has expressed his grave concern about what happened in Cavan and Monaghan. An alphabet soup of government agencies are now looking into every aspect of this case. The HSE, The HSA, The NSAI, The EPA and the Local Authorities. The Radio Investigative Unit will continue to keep an eye on their work.

"Africa is better" says a resident whose been there..!

 Notice to boil water in Ennis to remain until 2009
A boil-water notice is to remain in place for 30,000 residents in the greater Ennis area until February 2009.
The joint precautionary notice by Clare County Council, Ennis Town Council and the Health Service Executive (HSE) that remains in place advises that children under five years, people in care and those vulnerable to infection should boil their water before drinking from the public supply.
Yesterday, Clare County Council signed an €8.3 million contract to build a temporary water treatment plant for the greater Ennis area.
Former junior environment minister, Batt O'Keeffe told the Dáil in 2005 that the permanent plant would be in place by late-2007.
However, it was confirmed yesterday that the plant would not be in place until February 2009, with work expected to commence on the facility this year.
Two years ago, Ennis's local water supply was hit by a series of boil notices after cryptosporidium was found in the water supply in June 2005.
In spite of spending €2 million on a temporary water treatment plant that is currently operational and repeated re-assurances from the local authorities that the water quality was of a high standard, a partial precautionary boil notice remains in place for vulnerable members of the community. The quality of the Ennis water supply became a general election issue last May.
Yesterday Fine Gael's Joe Carey TD said: "While welcoming the signing of today's contract documents, it is unacceptable that the precautionary boil notice will be in place for 3½ years by the time the permanent plant opens in February 2009."
He said the residents of Galway could avail of a water-voucher system within five weeks of the water scare in the city, while businesses could avail of a 10
per cent rebate in rates. "Nothing of the sort has been put in place for the people of Ennis."
Clare's mayor, Cllr Patricia McCarthy (Independent), said: "The people of Ennis have been waiting a long time for this day."
On the delay in getting to the contract signing stage, she said: "There have been a number of difficulties, but the difficulties are past."
The contract signed yesterday is with EPS/Bowen Construction of Mallow, Co Cork, and work is expected to commence in late autumn-early winter, with design work to be carried out until then.
Ms McCarthy added: "When complete the project will be instrumental in meeting the future development needs of Ennis.
"Along with the construction of the Ennis bypass and the designation of the town as a hub under the National Spatial Strategy, the new water treatment plant will assist further in attracting focused investment into the area."
Gordon Deegan
© 2007 The Irish Times
Back to Index
12. North Sligo’s water ‘worse than in Africa’
THE public water supply in the north Sligo area is now worse than it is in parts of Africa for where appeals for funds to provide clean water are now being run, it has been claimed.
An illustration of the poor quality of water in the area is that a machine in Grange supplying a filtered supply can no longer handle it.
The machine at the local Londis supermarket and filling station gave people a cheaper alternative to bottled water, which many people are now using regularly for drinking instead of the public supply.
The machine filters the public water supply and you can buy five litres of filtered water for €1.20. On the first occasion you used you get a free container which you then reuse.
However, having had to turn it off on several occasions because of problems caused by the poor quality of the public water supply, owner Kevin Lowe is now installing a second filter, which will filter the water before it goes into the filter machine.
He said he was talking to the sup-pliers of the machine Crystal Clear to install the new filter at a cost of •1,000. He is also looking at installing a special filter for all the water coming into his premises at a cost of •1,200.
One north Sligo resident who has been a regular user of the machine is David Large from Maugherow. He worked in Africa for a number of years and said that the water supply was not as bad there as it is here now.
“I see Trocaire running appeals for funds to provide clean water for children in Africa but the time is coming when we will be running appeals to provide clean water for children here.
“When I was in Africa the water was never as bad as it is here. There are very high levels of iron in the water and too much iron is bad for you.”
He said he felt particularly sorry for older people who don’t have transport and can’t go and buy bottled water as easily.
© Sligo Weekender


Water water everywhere- and not a drop to drink.!

January 2007.

THE health of thousands of families all over the country is at risk from contaminated tap water.

A damning report reveals some councils are not bothering to check supplies.

As a result people are drinking water tainted by bugs and cancer-causing chemicals.

The report, published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), criticises the councils for not bothering to check drinking water supplies despite a legal requirement to do so.

It warns: "The high number of supplies not monitored - even once during the year - is putting the health of people served by these supplies at risk, as they may be consuming contaminated water but are unaware of it."

The councils are "failing in their responsibility to adequately monitor both the public and private group water schemes".

Some 82pc of private group supplies in Leitrim county were contaminated with e-coli from animal and human waste.

And despite massive investment in water, the quality of tap water in private group water schemes hit by e-coli has actually become worse for the first time in five years. Not one local authority acted against the operators of contaminated group schemes to protect householders.

The Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland report also discloses:

* A total of 65pc of group schemes and 9pc of public schemes were not checked during the entire year.

* Up to two-thirds of group schemes were polluted with e-coli in separate inquiries. This amounted to 228 schemes. There was a major question mark over another 64 schemes.

* In Leitrim, Kerry and Sligo more than half of tap water samples taken from group schemes were contaminated with e-coli from human and animal sewage.

A quarter of samples in Carlow, Mayo, Waterford and Wicklow were contaminated.

* In terms of schemes contaminated, more than half were in Cavan (65pc contaminated), Donegal (57pc), Kerry (60pc), Leitrim (82pc), Mayo (69pc) and Sligo (54pc).

* In two areas, Galway and Westmeath, dangerous chemicals were found but not fully investigated.

As a result there was no evidence of corrective action.

* An investigation of the country's local authority water plants found many were not protecting water sources from the deadly bugs which can kill.

* There was little evidence councils are protecting the public from bugs such as cryptosporidim at most water supply plants.

* Public drinking water from some local authorities had high levels of arsenic "one of the few substances shown to cause cancer in humans throught consumption of drinking water". The highest levels were found in the Ballyogarty supply in Waterford, while in Hollywood (Wicklow) and Clontibret (Monaghan), the levels were only marginally above the limit. The Hollywood supply has been sorted out.

* Two councils - Galway and Westmeath - did not investigate the cause of chemical contamination. In both cases there was no evidence of any corrective action being taken by the councils to deal this.

* No local authority audited by the EPA last year had taken enforcement action to ensure compliance in contaminated group water schemes.

* More than 40pc of the e-coli contamination of public water supplies were due to the failure of chlorination equipment not detected by the local authority. * Three councils did not carry out any monitoring for bromate, a possible "carcinogenic in humans". These were: Kilkenny; Laois and Meath.

Treacy Hogan (Irish Independent)

Swallow hard: just how clean is the supply where you live?

CARLOW: One outbreak of cryptosporidium bacteria.

Cavan; Serious e-coli contamination in 13 private group schemes.

CLARE: Ennis had serious breaches for potentially dangerous pollutants called THMs.

CORK CITY: Excellent.

CORK NORTH: No monitoring in three public schemes, 18 public group schemes and two private schemes.

Cork South: No monitoring in nine schemes.

CORK WEST: No monitoring in 19 schemes.

DONEGAL: No monitoring in four schemes and insufficient monitoring in four others. Excess aluminium in Ballyshannon, Cranford, Donegal, Frosses-Inver, Gortahock-Falcarragh and Lough Mourne.

DUBLIN CITY: Good.

DUN LAOGHAIRE RATHDOWN: Above average.

FINGAL: Above average.

GALWAY CITY: Supply may be at risk from cryptosporidium but council working on this.

GALWAY CO COUNCIL: No monitoring in 30 group schemes and 30 private schemes and insufficient checks in 204 others.

KERRY: No monitoring in 18 group schemes. Quality of public and private water "unacceptably low".

KILDARE: Above national average.

KILKENNY: No checks on seven of eight public groups schemes. Excessive aluminium in Mooncoin.

LAOIS: No checks for pesticides or cyanide or bromates which can cause health problems.

LEITRIM: 18 of 22 private group schemes contaminated with e-coli.

LIMERICK CITY: Above average.

LIMERICK COUNTY: No monitoring in 28 public group and 11 private group schemes.

LONGFORD: High aluminium in Ballinalee/Edgeworthstown, Granard and Longford central supply.

LOUTH: Above average but no checks on any private water supplies sending water to public or commercial activities.

MAYO: No monitoring on 100 public group schemes.

MEATH: No monitoring for range of toxic chemicals and pesticides. EPA says council must sort this out.

MONAGHAN: Below average, with breaches for chemicals. Arsenic has been found in Clontibret supply.

NORTH TIPPERARY: Good.

OFFALY: High aluminium in Tullamore.

ROSCOMMON: No monitoring in 11 schemes.

SLIGO: seven out of 15 private group schemes were contaminated with e-coli.

SOUTH DUBLIN: Good.

SOUTH TIPPERARAY: Two e-coli discoveries in Galtee regional and Mullenbawn public supplies.

WATERFORD CITY: Good.

WATERFORD COUNTY: No monitoring in 10 schemes.

WESTMEATH: Good.

WEXFORD: No monitoring in five schemes.

WICKLOW: Six out of 15 private group schemes were contaminated.

Flood of protest as Minister launches new water scheme

Workers in the County Council's water and sewerage department have been angered by the council's decision to proceed with handing over some water plants to the private sector without consultation.

They made their feelings perfectly clear with a protest involving 45 people outside the Mount Wolsey Hotel, Tullow, in Carlow, on Monday where Environment Minister Dick Roche was due to sign the South Leinster DBO Project.

The project involves the construction of 18 new water treatment plants for group water schemes in each of the six counties as well as 15 new local authority owned plants, 13 of which will be located in Wicklow.

However, SIPTU insist that the project was designed for group water schemes, but the council are exclusively handing over public water schemes. SIPTU representative, Michael Wall, was present at Monday's noisy protest and insists Wicklow County Council are making a big mistake.

'It's a black day for the people of Wicklow when the elected local authority decides, without consultation or proper analyses, to hand over the Wicklow water supply to the private sector for profit. This decision is in direct breach of national agreements, which clearly lay down procedures for examining the feasibility of such projects.'

Mr. Wall added, 'this project has not been properly evaluated and the associated costs are highly suspect. The consequences of handing over the water supply to private operators for twenty years will be an economic and social disaster for the employees, the taxpayer and the consumers,'

He also condemned the council's decision to withdraw from the Labour Relations Commission process and refusal to go to the Labour Court.

The overall value of the South Leinster DBO project is around €27 million. Construction cost is estimated at €8.5 million while the net present value of the 20 year operation and maintenance contract is put at €18.5 million.

The contract was awarded to EPS Ltd of Mallow, Co Cork, an Irish firm with long experience in the field of mechanical and electrical engineering and in the water services area in particular.

However, Mr. Wall remains adamant that the project could prove disastrous.

'You are talking about handing over Wicklow water for 20 years to the private sector with no analyses of the consequences. The council have an obligation to consult with stake holders, trade unions and the public. Now it appear the jobs belonging to these men are in limbo.'

 

The water barons
A look at the world's top water companies
Bob Carty, CBC Radio | Feb. 3, 2003

When you turn on the tap or flush the toilet in an increasingly larger number of countries around the world, you're increasing the profit line for some of the world's largest multinational corporations.

The world's private water industry is dominated by just three corporations: Vivendi and Suez, both of France, and Thames Water of England, owned by the German conglomerate RWE.

 

"There will be world wars fought over water in the future."

He says that while the companies claim they can deliver water more efficiently, that is often not the case, and the cost is the loss of public control.

"These are 25, 30-year contracts, which the corporation have enormous control over something that is so essential to life itself," says Clarke.

 

"You can switch from Coke to Pepsi but you can't switch from water to... what?"

 

David Boys, who works for a federation of public trade unions, says the same reason water is profitable is why it shouldn't be a private business.

"You're clients are captive because they can't decide, 'Well, I'm not going to buy water anymore, I'm not going to turn my tap on,'" he says. "You can't do that. You can switch from Coke to Pepsi but you can't switch from water to... what?"

The public relations videos by the world's top water corporations boast explosive growth, with statements such as:

"Suez has experienced unprecedented growth in the last five years."

"Vivendi Water, the world's largest water company."

"110 million people on five continents are supplied with drinking water and sanitation services."

The ICIJ investigation shows cases where service and access has improved under private management. But around the world, privatizations have also led to rising costs, cutoffs for poor people and companies pulling out of contracts when they can't make enough profit.

Those issues have provoked heated debates and protests in many countries, debates and protests that may soon be coming here.

Though most privatizations so for have been in Asia, Africa and Latin America, top executives of the big three companies told CBC Radio that they plan to expand next in two areas – China and North America.

Bechtel vs. BoliviaThe Bolivian Water Revolt

In January 2000, just months after it took over control of the water system of Bolivia’s third largest city, Cochabamba, a Bechtel Corporation subsidiary hit water users with enormous price increases. These increases forced some of the poorest families in South America to literally choose between food or water. A popular uprising against the company, repressed violently by government troops, left one 17 year old boy dead and more than a hundred people wounded. In April 2000 Bechtel was finally forced to leave. In November 2001 Bechtel decided to add to the suffering it had already caused by filing a legal demand for $25 million against the Bolivian people – compensation for its lost opportunity to make future profits.

The Democracy Center has played an important role in the water revolt and in the fight against Bechtel’s claim. The Center reported the story, directly from the scene, in a series of dispatches that received honors for the top story of 2000 from Project Censored. The Center was the first to expose that Bechtel was the real force behind the Bolivian water company. The Center has engaged both Bechtel and the World Bank directly on their actions and led the campaign to file an International Citizen’s Petition with the World Bank demanding that the Bechtel vs. Bolivia case be opened.

In 1997 the World Bank informed Bolivia that it was making additional aid for water development conditioned upon the government privatizing the public water systems of two of its largest urban centers, El Alto/La Paz and the city of Cochabamba. In September 1999, in a secret process with just one bidder, Bolivia’s government turned over Cochabamba’s water to a company controlled by the California engineering giant, Bechtel.

Within a few weeks, Bechtel’s company raised water rates by an average of more than 50%, sparking a citywide rebellion that has come to be known as the Cochabamba Water Revolt. In April 2000, following a declaration of martial law by the President, the army killing of a seventeen-year-old boy (Victor Hugo Daza), and more than a hundred wounded, the citizens of Cochabamba refused to back down and Bechtel was forced to leave Bolivia.

Eighteen months later Bechtel and its co-investor, Abengoa of Spain, filed a $50 million legal demand against Bolivia before a closed-door trade court operated by the World Bank, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). For four years afterwards Bechtel and Abengoa found their companies and corporate leaders dogged by protest, damaging press, and public demands from five continents that they drop the case.

On January 19, 2006 Bechtel and Abengoa representatives traveled to Bolivia to sign an agreement in which they abandoned the ICSID case for a token payment of 2 bolivianos (30 cents). This is the first time that a major corporation has ever dropped a major international trade case such as this one as a direct result of global public pressure, and it sets an important precedent for the politics of future trade cases like it.

Timeline and Summary of Key Events

In November 1999, Cochabamba’s citizens began to protest the privatization of their water system and up to 200 percent increases in water rates initiated by Aguas del Tunari (Bechtel, Edison, Abengoa). In April 2000, Aguas del Tunari was thrown out of Bolivia and replaced by a public company.

In November of 2002, Aguas del Tunari initiated a case for a minimum of $50 million against the Bolivian government, in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a mechanism of the World Bank, the same institution that forced Cochabamba to privatize its water system as a condition for a loan package in 1997.

The $50 million claim was not only for the recovery of investments, which are estimated at less than a million dollars, but also for estimated lost future profits due to the annulment of the contract with Cochabamba.

The process and content of the case against Bolivia in ICSID have been secret. Under ICSID rules, neither the people of Cochabamba nor the press have the right to access to case proceedings.

In August of 2003 more than 300 organizations from 43 countries, including Bolivia, sent an International Citizens Petition demanding that the case be transparent and open to citizen participation. ICSID rejected the petition.

The case has garnered international attention and activists in Bolivia, the U.S., and around the world have engaged in campaigns to pressure the companies to drop the case, and to bring international attention to the World Bank and its actions.

On October 21, 2005 ICSID ruled that it had jurisdiction in the case of Aguas del Tunari vs Bolivia, and would proceed with hearing the case. Defense of the ICSID case has cost the Bolivian government $1 million in legal fees over the past three years.

On January 19th 2006, Aguas del Tunari’s main shareholders Bechtel and Abengoa agreed to drop their case in ICSID for a token payment of 2 bolivianos (.30 USD). Sources directly involved in the settlement negotiations cited continued international citizen pressure as the reason the companies decided to drop the case.

http://www.democracyctr.org/waterwar/

http://www.cbc.ca/news/features/water/business.html

Read the full interview with Olivier Barbaroux

PIPE laying on a water scheme was blocked again in May 2006, near a west Limerick village. Residents sat down in front of digging machines on Tuesday forcing the contractor to withdraw. Limerick County Council want to replace the present supply in Pallaskenry which is sourced from a local lake named Bleach Lough. The council say the supply from the lake is not adequate to meet demands for piped water in the area.

It wants to pipe water from the River Deel, which locals say is badly polluted. After a previous protest stopped work, four objectors gave an undertaking to the High Court not to interfere with pipe laying pending a judicial review set for hearing on June 15. However, others moved in to prevent pipe laying, which was resumed on Tuesday near a white boundary line put down by the objectors. A council official warned the protesters they would face court action if they did not withdraw. One of the protesters, Donal O’Brien, said they reactivated their barricade when contractors tried to dig closer to the white line on Tuesday. "We forced them to stop the work and people brought chairs and deck chairs to sit on the road. There was room allowed for traffic to pass. There has been no work for the past number of weeks and the digging had stopped about 15ft from the white line." He said none of the four people named in the High Court was involved. He accused the council of trying to barge their way through with a supply from the river. A council spokesman said a supply needs to be put in place from the river as the lake supply does not have the capacity to sustain local development. He said the lack of an adequate water supply was hindering the granting of planning permissions, and supply from the lake gets the exact same treatment as water taken from the River Deel. The council is due to go the High Court today to seek an injunction to stop eight named protestors holding up the work.

Jimmy Woulfe

© Irish Examiner

The North leads the rebellion.

NORTHERN IRELAND

13. Water tax rebels to flood the courts

The Government has been accused of scare tactics in using the threat of Magistrates Court action against people who refuse to pay their water rates. The eight-week period of consultation on the new charges ended yesterday, with opponents also angry that it was not subject to the usual 12-week timeframe for people and organisations to register their opposition and build a case against the new rates.

The trade union movement is spearheading the campaign against the new charges. It is trying to convince householders not to pay their bills in a calculated attempt to swamp the legal system with thousands of cases of non-payment. Opponents to the charges claim the water bills amount to a form of double taxation as water is already paid for in the domestic rates – which the Government has also increased.

They are also claiming the new tax is aimed at making the industry more profitable in a precursor to privatisation, as has happened in most of the rest of the UK. The Government company which will run the service is being seen as a staging post before the service is sold off. Campaigners warn this will mean a decline in service as well as a rise in costs because it will become shareholder-profit driven.

Many people have already received their first estimated bill, most in the region of between £130 to £160, calculated on the rateable value of their home in 2005. This is just a third of what will be the average final bill as the charges are to be introduced on a sliding scale over the next two years. The final charges will also be based on an updated valuation of homes here, which have rocketed in the past few years. This inevitably means final bills will be many times the figure householders are seeing now.

NIPSA union leader John Corey said the Government appeared to be moving the legal goalposts as it was originally thought that non-payment cases would be taken through the small claims court – as would be the normal case with the non-payment of other utility bills. He said the Government is using a stick-and-carrot approach with underestimated bills to soften up people to the

concept of paying for water, while at the same time making threats about legal action over non-payment. Mr Corey said: "Our view is that the courts will not be able to cope with mass non-payment, and that's a deliberate attempt to paralyse the courts." The Government has contracted out the administration and collection of the water charges to private agency Crystal Alliance, which will be responsible for debt action. He said the contract is worth £70 million and is "another example of a massive waste of taxpayers' money".

The Government also raised the possibility of using an "outside collection agency" – raising the spectre of debt collectors and bailiffs knocking on people's doors. This comes just days after the Government changed the rules on bailiffs forcing entry and seizing property over credit card debt. Mr Corey said the Government has now announced non-payers will be dealt with through Magistrates Courts in a tactic designed to frighten people into paying under the threat and stigma of legal action. He said many people do not realise the non-payment of water charges is a non-criminal matter and that the courts also deal with civil cases. "We would say that this is the Government realising there will be mass non-payment, and this is an attempt to frighten the public with the use of the Magistrates Court. I'm not even sure if there is legislation in existence to deal with this whole issue." He reminded people that, according to legal advice given to the campaign against water charges, it is not a criminal offence to refuse to pay and it is illegal for the water authority to cut off supplies to people's homes. The union says its will be providing advice to householders on all the potential legal procedures for debt recovery through the Magistrates Courts and Enforcement of Judgements Office (EJO) procedures.

The Courts Service admits the final details of how to deal with enforcement have not been finalised, but it's expected the usual debt enforcement procedures will be followed. The service says it is confident it can deal with any flood of non-payment cases.

The Department of Regional Development yesterday defended the charges. It said: "Government has ensured that charges are fair and affordable and through the Reduced Tariff, that genuine hardship is avoided. Over a quarter of all householders in Northern Ireland are eligible for the Reduced Tariff and this provides protections that go far beyond anything available elsewhere in the UK for those on low incomes. The Reduced Tariff means that low income households will pay only £30, £45 or £60 from next April. This will rise to approx £90-£180 in three years time."

The General Consumer Council said it takes issue with the way the charges have been imposed. A spokeswoman said: "Basing charges on the capital value of a home is inherently unfair as it bears no relation to the ability to pay." She said the charges would undoubtedly cause hardship for many people. However, she said that while the GCC had empathy with those considering non-payment, and there was no doubt those refusing to pay had a legitimate case, the council's advice was for people to consider the implications on themselves very carefully before taking any action.

The outcome of the election, and whether or not an executive will be set up, and then what it decides, will ultimately decide whether the strategy of non-payment is put to the test.

© Belfast Telegraph