Thursday 19 October 2017

Crowd-pleasing new politics panders to the 'pay-nobody brigade'

Fine Gael sources dubbed it all a cynical manoeuvre by Fianna Fáil, spooked by Sinn Féin, which was in turn spooked by anti-water charge groups such as People Before Profit. (Stock picture)
Fine Gael sources dubbed it all a cynical manoeuvre by Fianna Fáil, spooked by Sinn Féin, which was in turn spooked by anti-water charge groups such as People Before Profit. (Stock picture)
John Downing

John Downing

In this land of abundant rain, our political leaders have for decades failed to frame a reliable water supply system with an emphasis on conservation and proper sewage treatment.

Now they are making everything worse by failing to come up with a fair and enforceable scheme of charging for water and sewerage services. In fact they cannot even agree a scheme for abuse and overuse.

After months of wrangling, the Oireachtas committee on water charges rejected a system of metering to promote water conservation. Despite the best sensible efforts of the independent chairman, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, TDs and senators failed hopelessly to make common cause on a system of penalties for the deliberate waste.

They ruled out household metering for newly-built homes - something which happens in Northern Ireland where they do not have domestic water charges. The rupture of an apparent deal last week between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on installing meters in newly built homes, among other things, summed up the state of division and confusion which prevailed at Leinster House yesterday.

At close of business it was reduced to an "I-said - you-said" squabble which did not reflect well on either main party. Fine Gael's lead committee person, Colm Brophy, insisted the committee's majority view leaves the country open to massive EU fines.

We have known for some time that what this committee was really about was finding a "political fix" and avoiding an unwanted general election. It had long ago ceased to be about a fair funding scheme for the long-term supply of water and sewerage treatment systems.

But this majority-backed outcome creates specific problems for Fine Gael leading a minority coalition. They agreed to accept the water committee outcome - but does that still stand if that outcome breaks EU law?

Fine Gael sources dubbed it all a cynical manoeuvre by Fianna Fáil, spooked by Sinn Féin, which was in turn spooked by anti-water charge groups such as People Before Profit. We have previously noted how this chain reaction was set in train back in October 2014 in the Dublin South West by-election won by anti-water charge candidate Paul Murphy.

Credit to the long-standing opponents of water charges. They were consistent and won out. But the outcome makes a mockery of the "new politics".

It also sustains a pay nobody system - except of course for people who pay income tax to fund a system which does nothing to promote responsible behaviour.

Former environment minister Alan Kelly is 100pc correct in asserting that the proposals flout the EU polluter-pays and cost-recovery principles. The Irish taxpayer, already carrying this water can, will also fund hefty EU penalties.

In one small redeeming feature, the committee does also recommend that householders who paid their water charges should be refunded.

How precisely this is going to happen is a matter for the Government, or more likely the civil service.

Group water schemes should get the same level of support as that being offered to public water schemes.

But those elements are not enough to offset this overall political fiasco which will cost us.

Irish Independent

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