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Bord Gáis, Irish Water, and the Privatisation Agenda

Cllr Ted Tynan analyses the Government’s drive to sell off public assets.

On Friday 13th December 2013, Pat Rabbitte appeared on RTÉ Six One News to tell us that sections of Bord Gáis are being sold off to a consortium of multinational companies for €1.12 billion, only a few hundred million below the original asking price.

In its annual report for 2012, Bord Gáis stated that it had “delivered a solid business performance and paid a dividend of €23.8 million to the exchequer for this period, bringing the total dividends paid to the Exchequer since the inception of Bord Gáis in 1976 to €854 million”.

In other words, Bord Gáis is a profit-making company, making over €20 million a year in profit, all going directly to the exchequer. So why is it being sold off?

In short, the decision to privatise parts of Bord Gáis was a purely political one.

There was no demand for privatisation of State assets from the Troika, nor was there any economic justification; the company was performing well and making money for the State. The €1.12 billion garnered by the sale may sound substantial, but it will quickly be swallowed up by the bank debts the Government has promised to pay back.

In short, the decision to privatise parts of Bord Gáis was a purely political one. The current Labour/Fine Gael coalition has an ideological commitment to privatisation, meaning it supports private enterprise over public good. We would expect this from Fine Gael, an avowedly right-of-centre and economically liberal party, but the fact that Pat Rabbitte, the country’s greatest cheerleader for privatisation, belongs to the self-styled democratic and socialist Labour Party, is one of the great wonders of contemporary Irish politics. It’s hard to believe that, during the 1970s, Rabbitte was a leading member of the Resources Protection Campaign.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: there was nothing democratic or socialist about the privatisation of Bord Gáis. It was a decision made without any consultation with the people, or even a vote in the Dáil. There was barely even a debate about it in the national media. When you pay your gas bill in future, some of the money will be going into the accounts of international investors in London and Toronto with no incentive to provide a fair and reliable service but with every incentive to squeeze their customers for as much as they can get.Minister Rabbitte said that the sale is a ‘vote of confidence’ in the Irish economy. This is a typically meaningless statement, and insulting to our intelligence; elements of Bord Gáis were bought precisely because they are profitable and well run, and these are the reasons we should have kept them!

That’s our gas gone, but what about our water? As of 1st January this year, control over the nation’s water supply was taken out of the hands of the Local Authorities and given to the mysterious entity known as Irish Water, which was set up as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis.

The Government claims that there is no intention to privatise Irish Water, but then why have water services been taken away from democratically controlled Local Authorities? Can Irish Water seriously be considered a bona fide public company when much of its work is already being carried out by private contractors?

It was recently announced that Dublin City Council will be losing €2 billion in assets due to the transfer of services and facilities to Irish Water. These assets include commercial rates and government funding, and the Council are not being compensated for the loss. City Manager Owen Keegan should be commended for speaking out against this.

Trevor Haslett, former chief of Northern Ireland Water, recently wrote in an article in the Irish Times that Irish Water should learn from ‘successful models in England, and Wales’. But the privatisation of water in Britain during the 80s and 90s was an absolute disaster, leading to soaring water bills, infrastructural neglect, pollution, and even outbreaks of cholera and hepatitis as a result of supplies being shut off for non-payment. Many British people are currently struggling to pay their water bills, a phenomenon known as ‘water poverty’.

This is why it’s vital that we instigate a national debate on the democratic control of our natural resources and make our voices heard on how we want our economy to be run.

Ted Tynan is a Workers’ Party Cork City councillor.

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Ted Tynan

Ted Tynan

Ted Tynan is a Workers' Party Councillor in Mayfield, Cork.