Four individuals spearheading a campaign against water fees were detained by authorities in Dublin on Monday — a move that outraged Irish anti-austerity activists, who called the arrests “pure political policing.”
Before their release, the four men were interrogated for several hours over their involvement in a November incident in which 100 protesters surrounded the car of a government minister, preventing her from moving for two hours until police pushed through the crowd and rescued her. The incident happened in Jobstown, southeast of the capital.
The rocky road to Dublin's water austerity plan began with the 2008 financial crisis, when Ireland took an $85 billion bailout of its banks from the the International Monetary Fund and European authorities, in an attempt to stabilize the economy. Ireland, known as the "Celtic Tiger" during the 1990s technology boom, had to scale back social services to pay its creditors back. For some on the political left, the new water charges were the last straw.
The water measures passed in November 2014, and Irish water consumers can expect the first water bills of their lives to arrive in April, according to the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA), an Irish political party fighting the new fees.
Police detained two members of AAA, Kieran Mahon and Michael Murphy, along with Paul Murphy, a member of the Irish parliament who now heads the part. Murphy has become a prominent face of opposition to water austerity measures. Police also questioned activist Scott Masterson, RTE reported.
The “Jobstown Four,” as they’ve come to be known, and their supporters say their arrests were designed to undermine their movement.
“[It] was an exercise in pure political policing, designed to damage the anti-water charges movement, targeting the AAA in particular. There is no basis for these charges, so let them charge us. Let’s have a court case, let’s have a jury, because we’re not guilty,” Paul Murphy told the Irish Times.
Allegations against the four include charges of false imprisonment for impeding Joan Burton, the leader of the Irish Labour Party and Minister for Social Protection, from leaving a college graduation ceremony.
Critics say Irish citizens already pay taxes to maintain municipal water systems, and extra fees will only hurt the poorest. The new fees will range from up to $200 (160 euros) a year for single people and up to $325 (260 euros) for families, according to government statistics.
Deirdre Clune, a member of parliament for Fine Gael, told Al Jazeera in December that Ireland can’t afford the costs of supplying drinking water without charging fees. Supporters of the new charges point to recent incidents in which water treatment systems failed, forcing citizens to boil tap water for drinking and cooking.
“General taxation is used for hospitals, roads, etc., and there has never been enough for water. We need a separate entity, a publicly owned utility to borrow to invest in our water system,” Clune said. “The truth is that we haven't paid for our water infrastructure properly."
Irish police declined to comment on the arrests or whether charges would be brought. Burton did not return a request for comment.