Thursday 20 July 2017

Ailish O’Hora: Fianna Fail hasn’t changed its spots, let’s waste a few more billion abolishing Irish Water

Protesters from across Ireland braved poor weather conditions to take part in the campaign's last major rally before Friday's election
Protesters from across Ireland braved poor weather conditions to take part in the campaign's last major rally before Friday's election
Ailish O'Hora

Ailish O'Hora

It didn’t take that long in the end.

The Irish electorate had hardly finished speaking and Fianna Fail TDs were out of the traps with plans to abolish Irish Water.

The party that plunged the country into a lost economic decade and dire crash were telling the people exactly what they wanted to hear about their most hated utility -  even though plans for water charges were already on the cards under FF’s last watch (the first memorandum of understanding with the troika in 2010 refers to the introduction of water charges)

Their approach over the past couple of days appears deeply cynical, to say the least.

And could be very costly too.

Irish Water has estimated in internal documents that the actual cash cost of abolishing the utility would be €100m.

Then there’s the estimated €1.6bn in water charges to 2021 as well as the €1.6bn in savings estimated by Irish Water in the same period.

Not to mention the thorny issue of whether its borrowings can be kept off the country’s balance sheet – an issue that’s decided in Europe.

And the fact that charges for the utility, along with the property tax, is at least widening our income-focused tax base – another benefit in the long-run not to mention the upside of investing in the system for the future and the environmental aspects of it.

In addition, until we introduced the charges, we were the only OECD country not to have them in place.

A total figure of €7bn has been estimated as the cost of abolishing Irish Water over the next five years.

So why did Fianna Fail choose Irish Water as their central plank as negotiations for a new government begin or even ahead of another election?

The party can be applauded for managing to get back into power so quickly just five years after it plunged the Irish people and the economy into penury.

And just as the Fine Gael/Labour government were arguably making headways into fixing the economic mess, even though the recovery was very much Dublin-centred and their election message was badly planned and executed, we are now faced the ghost of Irish Water past.

There is a discussion to be had about the future of our water system but it has sensible and must consider those citizens who have already signed up to pay for water in good faith.

And that discussion has to be taken seriously by every political party and grouping involved in the debate.

Let’s remember that the Irish electorate didn’t exactly give its blessing to any particular party or grouping in the recent election.

And since the election, at least for the parties and groupings involved, it seems to have become a race to run into opposition.

It’s like the parents have gone out to party and left the children at home to fend for themselves.

If we were looking for a voice of reason in all of this it was that of Alan Dukes on Sean O’Rourke’s programme earlier this week when he called for calmness and sensible debate to ensue.

Let us also remember that there are a number of external influences that should also focus minds on the fragility of the economic recovery in our hugely exposed, small country- there are the issues of Brexit and growing signs of weakness in the world economy to mention just two.

Let’s hope it’s not too much to ask for.

 

 

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