Wednesday 28 September 2016

Politicians jumping ship on Irish Water

Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams

The election is over and, surprise surprise, we face another fine mess. Evidence, as if it were needed, that democracy is over-rated - the problem is, they haven't invented anything better. Only 59 TDs elected to our shiny new Dáil support the retention of water charges of €160/€260 annually. This includes members of the Green Party, who want free water allowances and tax relief. Labour and Fine Gael were scalded on the issue of Irish Water on the doorsteps of the nation.

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All attempts to take the sting out of the charges failed. The Water Conservation Grant was shambolic. The farcial extension of a series of closing dates failed to entice the 1.3 million houses eligible to even apply. Crazy bureaucracy resulted in the €100 direct grant, instead of simply knocking it off your bill. If this wasn't all bad enough, conservation is not even on the agenda.

If the Government bungling was depressing, the opportunism displayed by the Opposition was even more so. Despite Fianna Fáil agreeing to the terms of the bailout plans in compliance with EU water directives which meant imposing charges, they shamelessly embraced populism in joining the stampede of all the other parties to reverse the water charge. So 99 TDs will vote in a parliamentary ballot at some point to deconstruct the hated edifice that is Irish Water.

In the real world, €25 billion must be invested in modernising the national sanitary infrastructure. And €1.7 billion is needed annually, or €5.5 billion over six years, to resolve leakage alone (70,000 customer leaks have been identified).

We also must prevent discharge of untreated sewage from 45 locations, and upgrade 83 waste-water treatment schemes that are currently in breach of EU standards.

The entire eastern/midlands region needs a new source of drinking water for 600,000 more residents.

Some 30pc of the population refuses to pay domestic water bills. We see repeated street marches and displays of civil and not-so-civil disobedience. They anti side won the election battle. If politicos keep their promises, Irish Water and uncollected bills are history. There won't be an official amnesty, but non-payment may well ultimately be waived. Refunds won't happen. Compliance is for suckers. Legislation to deduct from wages or welfare payments at source simply won't happen.

While dressed up as left-wing ideology, it's all so much blatant populism. Politicians' promises have bedevilled our banana republic. Vague, unspecified central taxation is supposed to pay for everything, including water. A sensible, efficient, single public utility vehicle became a political football through wasteful culture within management, incoherent billing, systemic errors and profligate transition personnel arrangements.

The moral of this story is that only the Revenue Commissioners can effect full enforcement and collection of any levy. Local Property Tax, which is many times more expensive for families, was floundering until handled by tax collectors, with unopposed authority. All that's left is an orderly retreat on charges, salvaging avoidance of a return to 38 local authorities and a patchwork quilt of sanitary service failure.

Gerry's last stand at the party's ard fheis

Perhaps the most intriguing party post-mortem will be conducted inside Sinn Féin. A final tally of 23 TDs was a significant leap forward on a platform of 14 deputies. But less than 15pc market share represents a dip on the high point of European elections and peak opinion polls rating of 26pc.

Winnable ones that got away were: Paul Donnelly/Dublin West; Chris Andrews (Dublin Bay South), Trevor Ó Clochar-taigh (Galway West), Kathryn Reilly (Cavan Monaghan)and Darren O'Rourke (Meath East). Second seats were aspired to in Dublin South West, Cork North Central and Dublin South Central - not coming close in the end.

There were no breakthroughs in counties of Wexford, Tipperary, Clare and Westmeath. But an unexpected (and, for Sinn Féin, unthinkable) shock failure related to Pádraig Mac Lochlainn's inability to retain his seat in the redrawn Donegal constituency. His party's three-candidates strategy was overambitious, resulting in a critical seat loss for a high-profile justice spokesperson.

Where did it all go wrong? Quite simply, either Fianna Fáil or AAA/PBP ate their lunch. Controversies about Slab Murphy's tax case would be toxic to any party. Yet a most fixable aspect of the campaign was the fuzzy performance of boss Gerry Adams (pictured below), in the leaders' debates and lengthy broadcast interviews.

He's been Sinn Féin president since 1983. His presidential address to the SF ard fheis is on Saturday, April 23 (the weekend of the 1916 Rising centenary festivities). Rumours are gathering pace that he's set to use this landmark occasion to announce his retirement as leader. If his party is to break through the glass ceiling of obtaining more than 30 seats/20pc of the vote, it requires a new generation at the top. Don't be surprised if Mary Lou McDonald leads Sinn Féin into next year's general election.

Champing at the bit for Cheltenham

There are just 10 more sleeps to the start of the Cheltenham Festival. Willie Mullins's battalion of 60-plus runners will, as usual, carry most of my cash. Now that bookies start to go 'non-runner - no bet', it's timely to consider ante post selections elsewhere.

I was at Aintree last April when novice hurdler Thistlecrack romped home at 16/1. He's improved throughout season, dominating stayer division. He's my banker @11/10 in World hurdle. Barter's Hill (11/4) in Albert Bartlett hurdle will front run. He may not be passed - unbeaten to date. Josie's Orders (5/2) has requisite course form to win the Glenfarclas Cross-Country chase for JP McManus and Enda Bolger.

A politics overdose has me pining for Cheltenham escapism on Tuesday week. Forget forming any government that week.

Irish Independent

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