Taking Control: One families journey from the brink to fighting water charges

Interview by Mike Edwards

There is no doubt that new taxes such as the water tax are proving to be the final straw for those who are struggling to make ends meet. We spoke to one woman, Colette O’Brien, who lives in Tramore, Co. Waterford about her experience and how she is coping in our recovering economy.

When we sat down, we asked Colette to introduce herself and to tell her story.

“My name is Colette O’Brien, I’m 39 years old, I’m married with four kids and living in Tramore, Co Waterford. In my free time, I’m also a volunteer with ISPCC, Childlines free phone service here in Waterford.


I was never politically  minded, I worked from the age of 16 to my early 30s, as my husband did, until we were hit by the cut backs early 2007. My husband lost his full time job as a block-layer, that was to forever change our lives.

We have a large mortgage and made many calls and visits to bank trying to come to some sort of agreement, many of those calls were spent crying on the phone trying to explain why we just could not make the large payments in the early days. I think it would be fair to say my husband struggled with having no job, as he knew nothing else but to work and pay his way, asking for help never came easy.

There have been times where I was the woman sitting at the table crying, sitting there counting my out goings and income, they never added up. I felt like a failure as a mother, I could no longer go and buy shoes when they were needed. I felt like every bill was a brick on my shoulders. Over the years, we got used to it all, we were always the couple who paid their bills and when we both worked, we didn’t do big holidays or have two cars, we just didn’t have to struggle then.

Two years ago, my husband emigrated to Canada, himself and his brother. They found a contact who wanted them there as soon as possible. No visa, ‘Just come’ they were told, ‘We have loads of work for you’. Again I was the woman sitting at the table crying. I again had no control.

In the meantime, I had won volunteer of the year in 2012. The Minster for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, gave a speech at the conference I attended. She spoke about how the system was failing children and how the children rights referendum needed to be brought in, as I well knew from talking on the phones to children. I have heard stories of children being failed on a daily basis. Those in care being abused by their carers, no social worker visits and for those who had social workers, they felt they just didn’t care. To quote one child, “My social worker is a dope and doesn’t care”. This shocked me, surely these kids had the support they needed and had a right too? 


In the election that followed shortly after, I followed it with great interest and I remember speaking to a Labour candidate  at my door. He told me “We care about the children, we will not cut the childrens’ allowance, we will bring in the children rights referendum”. I canvassed on behalf of the ISPCC and met many people with a fear of agreeing to anything. I could that see people were just annoyed, something that I understood to be a no brainer, yet I met people who just didn’t want to know.

Off my husband went to Canada. He borrowed money from his family, our family’s future had hope again. The night he left was the worst night of my life. It was like someone just died. My four year old had a panic attack, the tears and heartbreak were unbearable. As I watched my husband walk away from our home, I had sank to an all time low 

With the help of family, we got by.  The money was very little and some weeks we had nothing at all. In the end he came home owing money to family and friends. It took us nearly two years to get sorted. In the meantime, I was still in the ISPCC seeing nothing was changing. Kids were still paying the price for a system that didn’t work.

Things have settled here in my home. We get by paying what we can, when we can. We realised that being together to raise our family was what we needed to do. That said there are many times where I feel like I’m failing my children. I don’t see a future in Ireland for them, I have a brother living in England, a cousin who after three years of study he left this country and went to Canada heart broken, but with no other choice. He also had joined Childline and was very good at what he did.

In the meantime, property tax and water tax have been added to my long list of things to pay. Water Tax is the final straw. Water that falls from the sky, that we already pay for, I have had enough. I cant take any more taxes, lies, seeing TDs spending sickening amounts of money on phones, parties, holidays, hair dos, I have enough, this time of year especially, coming up to Christmas. I, like many others find it hard to see how we will do it. I turn the news on or hear the radio. More money to pay that I have not got . Again, looking at my children feeling that I have no control. As I saw people standing up against water charges, I decided enough was enough, it was time to stand up.

I went around my estate where I live and asked people how they felt. 99% are not paying the new tax. I was shocked to see people so misinformed. It felt good, that day knocking on doors. I finally felt I had control. My children asked what I was doing. I explained it all. I explained they had a right to a better life  and our government had let us down. They were getting richer and we were getting poorer.

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My husband went to a protest in Dublin. He came home to tell us all about how many people had turned up and how good it was to have a voice. We got word Waterford was going to host a protest; so myself, the four kids, husband, mother in law, sister and brother in law and his kids and wife all met in Waterford and walked in the pouring rain. Finally, I felt the power of the Irish spirit. I didn’t feel alone, I remember thinking all these people here feel the same way, let down by our government.

One of my proudest moments that day was watching my six year old start a chant. “No way, we wont pay”. I want better for her, she deserves it. I don’t want to stand in Dublin airport and say goodbye to her as she leaves this country. So many families this Christmas will have an empty chair  because of this, I don’t want to join that group at least without a fight. I will not pay the water charges, I will not support a government who has failed the people that trusted them.

I believe even we if we show our children how to stand up and say no and to fight for their rights for a better Ireland, it will be worth it all.