Wednesday 7 December 2016

This is what happens when power and careers trump principle

The people are being made fools of, and the impact of rewarding lawbreakers will have major implications for our country, says Alan Kelly

Alan Kelly

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

Is Simon Coveney going to explain to the people of Cork where he will now get the €92m to end the discharge of 20 tonnes of sewage a day into Cork Harbour? Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Is Simon Coveney going to explain to the people of Cork where he will now get the €92m to end the discharge of 20 tonnes of sewage a day into Cork Harbour? Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Fine Gael is now putting power over principle and their own careers first. This is no grand coalition, it's FF sponsoring its traditional enemy and hiding behind any sense of responsibility.

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This is one of the first times the State will reward lawbreakers - unless it gives refunds which is a monumental administrative exercise that will cost money in and of itself.

The Civil Debt Act won't cover people who haven't paid their bills to date (under €500) so it will need new legislation to do this. Does anyone actually believe this will happen?

The impact of rewarding lawbreakers will have major implications for our country in future years.

What next? Will future governments just buckle under pressure about any tax or charge that's unpopular now?

This climbdown will long be remembered. It symbolises that we have reached a stage of government by perceived popular opinion rather than government based on values. This will have serious long- term consequences for Irish society and how to fund all public services.

The people are being made fools of. Charges will likely be suspended indefinitely. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will hide behind a commission whose recommendations won't see the light of day in this Dail.

Meanwhile we are losing €1.4bn in investment with waste and water projects around the country being delayed or scrapped. We will have more water shortages and we will have health risks from contamination.

Whatever investment happens will have to come from increased government subventions - which means more taxes on the 950,000 who paid their bills, and who won't get their money back, and on the 340,000 in rural Ireland who have paid for water all their lives.

Watch as the commercial charges are re-evaluated upwards too now. Taxpayers will now pay more and get less for their taxes as efficiencies and innovation are lost.

A failure to properly fund Irish Water will have dire consequences for our environment.

I watched Simon Coveney cry crocodile tears last week over potential environmental damage in Cork Harbour from the incinerator - only for him to agree with FF to jeopardise the funding of the new waste-water treatment scheme for his same beloved harbour.

Is Simon Coveney going to explain to the people of Cork where he will now get the €92m to end the discharge of 20 tonnes of sewage a day into Cork Harbour?

It is a fact that if we do not provide proper treatment in Cork Harbour, we will face action and fines for not giving effect to the waste-water treatment directive. Greece last year faced a fine of more than €15m over discharges into the Gulf of Elefsina.

Every EU country has some form of charge for water and waste.

Under Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive, the user or polluter must pay. Ireland had a derogation which has long since passed. The user or polluter will not pay now so we are in breach of the directive and hence the new government is knowingly acting in contravention of EU law. One could say it is acting ultra vires. The Taoiseach is certainly aware of these legal issues. It will result in massive fines for Ireland similar to other countries.

As the foremost authority on EU law, Prof Gavin Barrett of UCD has said "getting rid of water charges is definitely not in compliance with EU law".

I admire politicians of all persuasions who show moral fibre when they're standing over something they believe to be right, well, at least you can admire their courage to stand out from the crowd.

But to see no moral fibre from Fine Gael - as they walk from affordable water charges and something that's right - is inexcusable at every level.

In the end, if charges are abolished, people are entitled to a refund, otherwise FF/FG will reward non-payers.

Alan Kelly is acting Minister for the Environment and Labour TD for Tipperary

Sunday Independent

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