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What’s the Detroit Water Brigade Doing In Ireland?

Why they’re taking the fight for water rights to Dublin on October 10.

A march against water charges imposed by the Irish Water company. Photo by Flickr user Maurice Frazer.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to take the streets of Dublin tomorrow, and marching among the throngs of demonstrators will be the Detroit Water Brigade. They’re joining the Irish in their clarion call for water rights. The Right 2 Water December 10 protest is a response to recent government austerity measures that will impose additional charges on water usage. Detroiters will be airing their own grievances with the Detroit city government, which in the past year has shut off water service for more than 27,000 homes. Together, activists of Ireland and Detroit will protest in solidarity against the global privatization of water resources and organize to reestablish clean water access as a fundamental human right.

The fight for water rights emerges as a sublimate of general discontent with the current Irish government. The increased water charges have exacerbated anxieties about widening class divisions. In between 2007 and 2012, the gap between Ireland’s richest 20 percent and its poorest 20 percent ballooned by more than 11 percent. Much of the ire has been directed at the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish representative government. In a video that garnered almost 36,000 views on YouTube, performance artist Andrew Galvin issued a vehement call for revolution in a poem titled ”On the 10th of December Ireland Will Rise”.

“What heart breaking treason against Ireland/ Aided and abetted by her own sons and daughters,” recited Galvin, “The rape of our nation; the ransom of our waters. / And for what? / To bail out gamblers unwilling to repay their debts. / Who having lost retrieve their bets.”

Both Detroit and Ireland are battling financial crises brought on by the global recession of 2007. In Detroit, the auto industry was hit the hardest; the factories that served as the engine of the city’s local economy were closed down and thousands of people lost their jobs. In Ireland, the recession resulted in the collapse of the Irish banking system in 2008 and citizens were pressed to take bailout loans. In accordance with conditions imposed by an EU/IMF loan, the government established the Irish Water company in 2012 to begin facilitating water services and enforce new water charges. Tap water, until now, has been free for residents, although water infrastructure is so poor and dilapidated people have had to boil the water before consuming it. And government officials argue these new water charges will go towards building better water systems—except many people can’t afford to pay an additional tax. Almost 8 percent of the population currently lives in poverty, more than 750,000 people.

“I don't think the government realise[s] how much of a burden it would be to the people around this area who are already stretched financially—paying tax after tax after tax—and this is just one tax too far,” one Irishman told the BBC.

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