Sunday 23 October 2016

All hail the new Fianna Gael Alliance!

The Irish, it seems, are too thick to think about more than one serious issue at a time, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Cartoonist: Tom Halliday

The Fine Gael/Fianna Fail Alliance, after spending two whole months forming a government, is agreed on the continuation of the Irish Water project.

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Fianna Fail, being a party of principle, stoutly held to its election promise that it would not enter coalition with Fine Gael. They entered the Alliance instead.

Fianna Fail, being a party of no principle beyond its own advancement, readily agreed to ditch its election promise to "abolish Irish Water".

But, of course, Irish Water doesn't matter any more.

We're all agreed, are we not - the Fianna Gael Alliance, the Independent Alliance, and the officer class of the media - that there are "far more important issues" than Irish Water.

And it's only €3 a week.

They're right - in that most of us can afford €3 a week.

But they're also wrong. The combined actions of FF and FG, with their helpers, have resulted in the spread of low-wage jobs, so that more people than ever don't have a spare €3 at the end of the week.

There are other people who have the €3, but things are so tight that they have to choose carefully how they spend it.

And there are people who could manage the €3 but they figure they've already taken a financial hiding, to save the bankers and the builders.

Ah, but, say the Fianna Gael Alliance fans, surely there are more serious issues?

They're right - and, again, they're wrong.

They're right because the consequences of homelessness, or a chaotic public health service, or property speculation, or untreated mental problems, are far more serious than the consequences of water charges.

But, they're wrong in that we don't have to forget Irish Water in order to be angry at Leo Varadkar diverting millions from mental health resources. We know they have a low regard for us, but we're not nearly as dim as the average backbencher.

Irish Water has been about siphoning money from us, to no good purpose, but the long-term aim has been privatisation.

The protests have been about the money - and they forced FG/Labour to drastically reduce the charges. But they've also been about opposition to selling the water supply to private interests. Few things anger people more than being treated as a fool. And what has angered many, even those who reluctantly coughed up for the water charges, was the brazen way in which the parties tried to take us for a ride.

Where did Irish Water come from? What has been going on? Let's consider what we found out over the past two years.

A cynical Chicago politician laid down a rule: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." He meant that a crisis gives manipulative politicians an opportunity to get away with things that would arouse dissent in normal times.

From the 1980s, the Thatcher revolution spread the gospel of privatisation: transport, water, telecoms - the quality of services declined, as fat cats vanished over the horizon in trucks full of money.

In Ireland, the politicians followed suit where possible, and did so with their usual efficiency. Telecoms - closely followed by the Moriarty Tribunal; bin charges, closely followed by a decline in service. They're working on transport, and making a hash of it.

Privatising water was dicey. No one dared try it on.

Then, the bankers crashed the economy in 2008. And, you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.

In 2009, Fine Gael invented the notion of Irish Water; in 2010 Fianna Fail ran with it; FG picked up the ball after the 2011 election.

The European Central Bank, working to the same privatisation agenda, pushed things along.

This, of course, is all left-wing paranoia. Until you look at the record. Or try to.

What was discussed at Irish Water's initial meetings? That would be nice to know, but as RTE's This Week programme found out, a rake of meetings took place without the retention of minutes recording what was discussed or decided.

This is not at all usual.

The customary hordes of "consultants" feasted on the easy prey - a pack of cheetahs descending on a virginal gazelle. Around €50m was spent on consultants, we were told, then we got a total of €86m spent on consultants and lawyers.

A nominal €150m was set aside for setting up the company, with a "contingency" fund of another €30m - maybe that was for tea bags and Marietta biscuits in case anyone got peckish at those un-minuted meetings.

Irish Water furiously denied splashing bonuses around to the top staff. The top staff, they said, were given "performance-related rewards".

Half a billion was spent on meters. A vast Irish Water set-up exists to raise the money it costs to run Irish Water.

But, really, privatisation? They wouldn't be so manipulative, would they?

You can't sell a utility paid for out of tax. You must create a "revenue stream" to produce a profit for speculators.

We know that a PwC report commissioned by the Government wrote of "competitive markets in the water sector at a later date". It suggested Irish Water be designed for "the possibility of future retail competition".

We know that Eurostat wrote bluntly, in a letter to the Central Statistics Office, that "privatisation is ultimately envisaged". Outfits like Eurostat are used to calling things as they see them.

The CSO asked for that reference to be removed from the letter.

We know that when Irish Water started writing to us it demanded our PPS numbers: and our home phone numbers, mobile numbers, email addresses and bank account details.

Why did they need all this data? They said it was so they'd know where to deliver the water.

Eh, you've got a goddamn pipe leading to our homes.

They were creating a database that would be a lucrative asset when it came time to privatise Irish Water.

How do we know they would treat our data as an "asset"?

Well, when you ploughed through a difficult-to-read website you found that in a sale of Irish Water our data "will be one of the transferred assets".

Irish Water could transfer or process our data at will, the website said, and "by submitting data to Irish Water, the Customer agrees to this".

When they knew people were ferreting around their site, they took down the stuff about privatisation.

Oh, that old stuff, that was - well, we didn't mean to put that up, that was a mistake. Really.

Spontaneous protest, beyond anything that the Left could organise, sprang up. This forced the politicians to cut the bills, temporarily. The aim is to do whatever it takes to get us on the books, to create that saleable "revenue stream".

Protesters were bad-mouthed as a "sinister fringe". They were compared to Islamic State. Every mistake by any individual - and there were mistakes - was treated as a planned manoeuvre by the whole movement. It was not the media's finest hour.

Already, the politicians who have wreaked havoc on public health, asset-stripped the citizens and presided over soaring rates of suicide, tell us we must stop thinking about Irish Water. And think of serious issues.

As though we're incapable of taking a position on more than one serious issue at a time.

Already, I'm sorry to say - but not surprised - the media has joined in this meme. All hail, it seems, the new Fianna Gael Alliance! There will be fun to be had spotting the odd infight. But the media, I fear, is entering one of its "responsible" periods. As the cringe-making media performance on "government formation" showed, we don't have sources, we have handlers.

Sunday Independent

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