Water, as well as the nation’s other resources, ‘belong to the State’ as stated in the 1937 Constitution, but Article 10 needs to be rewritten, writes Eddie Hobbs
Today’s water protesters, whether they realise it yet or not, campaign on a fissure between the Irish people and the State, which, left unaddressed, will keep recurring until the issue of who owns our natural resources is properly addressed by constitutional amendment, anything short of which is merely tinkering with the symptoms of a carefully-laid flaw.
In the1930s, Europe was grappling with the destruction of imperial empires after the First World War. Fearful of socialism, it venerated the state and its new strong leaders, breeding, at the extreme, a new kind of government –authoritarian and all-knowing. Invoking the primacy of the state, fascism took a grip on Germany and Italy, while clerical fascism also gripped Spain, as observed by Eamon de Valera, influencing the writing of the 1937 Constitution which he supervised.
This may partially explain why the Irish people have been alienated by the State from their own natural resources, including oil, gas, minerals, forests, fisheries, and water. Today, they enjoy fewer rights to natural resources than under Britain’s monarchy. Strolling through the Constitution is something few of us do – which is why part of it is reproduced below – but, set against the backdrop of the abject failure of the State to act in the common good on the issue of water and public fears about potential privatization, Article 10 will bring you to a shuddering halt at the words “belong to the State”.
Unlike many European countries, Ireland took explicit ownership of natural resources in its Constitution. While the Constitution recites its role in acting in the common good, the State reinforced its hegemony by ensuring that these principles of law, including the alienation of the people from their natural resource endowment, cannot be actionable through the courts under Article 45, which leaves the people marooned by the State when, acting as trustee, it fails in its duty of care.
Had this flaw not been engineered, today’s water protesters could be fighting through the courts and not in the streets for what the UN General Assembly in 2010 declared to be a human right: “The right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”
Ireland abstained from the vote on the UN declaration.