DUBLIN, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Ireland reduced the levels it plans to charges consumers for the use of water on Wednesday and promised to maintain the low rates until 2019 in a bid to quell the most serious anti-austerity protests it has faced to date.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to oppose the plans to levy water charges for the first time next year, complaining that they cannot afford to pay after years of tax hikes brought in to repair public finances.
While Ireland is forecasting GDP growth of 4.7 percent this year, the fastest in Europe, many people have yet to feel any effect and the protests have undermined plans to cut income tax that the government hope will boost its 2016 re-election hopes.
“We as a government have made mistakes (and) I have listened very, very carefully to the people,” Environment Minister Alan Kelly, whose constituency office received a bomb threat this week, told parliament.
“I believe that this package will be seen as fair by the vast majority of our people, it will be accepted as fair by the many people who have borne the burden of austerity.”
Kelly said a single person would pay 60 euros a year once a 100 euro government grant is taken into account, and households of two or more people would pay 160 euros.
Families had feared bills would run into hundreds of euros but the months of uncertainty has fed into the opposition after painful measures had previously been met with little resistance, unlike in other bailed-out euro zone members such as Greece.
A third day of protest against the charges is planned for Dec. 10 with opponents predicting that large numbers of frustrated households will refuse to pay.
“This is a manoeuvre by the government hoping to get them out of a hole. I don’t think it will work because the mood is so strong against this,” said Socialist Party member of parliament Ruth Coppinger, launching the “We Won’t Pay” campaign.
On a popular phone-in show on of the announcement, many were determined to ignore the bills when they arrive in April.
“This is only a con job,” Peter Stephenson told national broadcaster RTE. “If they reduced it six cents I wouldn’t pay it.”
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan