‘All day I’ve faced the barren waste without a taste of water, cool, clear water.’
On a recent visit to the theatre, in the middle of watching a performance onstage, I was reminded of the words of the above song when I found myself longing for a drink of water. I was on an aisle seat, so it would have been easy enough to drop out to the foyer without disturbing anyone. However, once I reached the foyer, I would then have needed to negotiate the stairs up to the bar and then pay between 2.5o and 2.80 Euro for a bottle of water. I could have asked for tap water but that is no longer as easy as it seems. When dining out with friends not long ago, I remember the slight pause and the unenthusiastic expression on the waiter’s face when we requested tap water. These experiences got me thinking about how easy it once was to access water in public places in this country. All of the parks, hotels and hospitals had water fonts for anyone who wished to use them. I thought of all those pretty green troughs that at one time used to grace every town in Ireland. God be with the days, I thought, when someone passing along the highways and the byways of Ireland could stop to quench their thirst. The last time that I saw a green trough in this country it was in Mohill in Leitrim. That’s twenty years ago, and to this day I wonder if it’s still there. There’s a trough out in Deansgrange cemetery also. Not in use , of course, most of these green troughs are now classed as ornaments and stand there like relics of old decency – a reminder of the days when Ireland was a free country and when Irish water came free along with it. Our water is still free, but not for much longer and one wonders why the public water facilities thoughout the length and breadth of Ireland are cut off? Thinking of the present debacle over the imposition of water charges, I began to think about when the notion of water charges was first introduced. Like many another, I filled in the forms and returned them and now await the arrival of my first bill. I returned the forms because I agree in principle with the idea of charging for water – so much is wasted either through leaks that need to be repaired or too many people watering their lawns (there’s plenty of rain in this country – so why do our gardens really need constant hosing?) But also now I am having second thoughts about paying. I realize that the next time I go to my sink and turn on my tap and fill my glass to quench my thirst, I’ll be charged for it, and there’s something fundamentally objectionable about the idea of paying for something that’s a fundamental right. Water isn’t called the eau of life for nothing – it’s essential if we wish to continue living on this earth. But, now, if we find ourselves stuck somewhere with no money in our pocket it means we’ll just have to go without – in other words, we’ll need to faint in the street first and pay before we can be revived. That might sound extreme, but think about about it – once we agree to pay it means we can never again enjoy the luxury of a free drink of water – something that we depend on for our very existence.I am thinking back to when the idea of bottled water first came into our consciousness, when spring water in the shape of Ballygowan was first introduced in Ireland. Walking into a bar you were asked ‘What will you have?’ and back would come the reply: ‘I’ll have a Ballygowan with ice.’ It was a nine-day wonder at the time but like everything else it’s now taken for granted. We still buy Ballygowan in bars and shops and supermarkets even though other brands havecome along to topple it from the top of the market. Nevertheless, the fact is that Ballygowan is presently worth upwards of 2 Billion, so you can see where the Government is coming from in terms of water charges – money in large amounts like that would go an awfully long way to fill the coffers and relieve this country of its present fiscal difficulties. As I say, I don’t object in princple to the idea of charging for water – no, that’s not what I object to – what I object to is that in order to quench my thirst I will now have to pay for it. It should be possible for everyone to access fresh drinking water when they need it and the day that I find myself stranded with no money in my pocket to pay for a bottle of water is the day that I’m going to feel mighty angry . If the Government wants to make money from Irish water, then I suggest they bottle it, call it Arab Spring, and export it to the desert and charge for it there.