IRISH Water has dismissed claims of a major U-turn in its policy towards disputed water meter installations after it removed equipment from a housing estate at the centre of a bitter three-week stand-off.
Five water meters were dug up and removed yesterday by contractors acting for Irish Water in the Ashbrook Heights estate in Togher, Cork.
The works came after a three-week protest campaign that saw some residents repeatedly block contractors from installing meters.
Protesters climbed into excavations and stood in front of heavy machinery, preventing the work from proceeding.
Gardai attended the scene on numerous occasions, but no arrests were made.
Yesterday, contractors for Irish Water were cheered and offered tea, coffee and scones as they began removing the meters from 9am.
Residents and protesters claimed victory and predicted Irish Water will now be forced into similar removals nationwide.
However, Irish Water insisted the removal of the five meters was undertaken purely on health and safety grounds.
“In the Ashbrook Estate, Irish Water is performing permanent reinstatement works to pathways and surrounding areas as planned,” a spokesman said.
“There are six boundary installations impacted. Five meters in new boundary boxes have been removed temporarily for inspection and will be re-installed in due course.”
But residents and protesters claimed the equipment removals represented a turning point in their campaign.
“We are here for however long it takes. We aren’t going anywhere because we have the support of Ashbrook residents and the people of Cork,” John Lonergan said.
Mr Lonergan said other communities nationwide now have to stand up for their rights and object to water meters being installed.
Mother-of-two and Ashbrook resident Suzanne O’Flynn lives just metres from the protests.
“I have no problem with a flat water charge because I think that is fair. I have no problem with a normal water meter, but I do not want a smart meter outside my home,” she said.
Another resident, Marie Cummins, paid tribute to the protesters. “Fair play to them, they are fighting for everyone’s rights,” she said.
John O’Donovan of the Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes said the peaceful demonstration was an example of how “people power can triumph” no matter what the odds.
“If people stand together they can stop this unfair charge. I’m here for however long it takes.”
Protester Brian Coleman warned: “This is a major challenge to the people of Ireland. Without our national assets like water we have nothing left as a people.”
Irish Water estimates that over 27,000 meters a month are now being installed.
Over 1,100 water meters were successfully installed on one day last week. The first bills are due to be issued from January.
Anyone without a meter will receive a flat rate bill next year.