Wednesday 26 October 2016

A revolt by those who paid is the new water threat

Published 29/08/2015 | 02:30

Environment Minister Alan Kelly, left and John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water
Environment Minister Alan Kelly, left and John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water

Today the Government will find out whether or not "they have gone away". But this time it will be the anti-water charge protesters - not the IRA - as a protest goes ahead in Dublin. Fine Gael and Labour politicians, preparing an all-out election campaign, would dearly love to see the water charge issue at least downplayed in the forthcoming canvass.

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As spring gave way to summer this year, that seemed likely, as bills began to drop and many citizens of middle Ireland felt they could live with them. But then a number of things happened to keep the issue live.

There was the revelation in mid-July that fewer than half the nation's households had actually paid their first quarterly charges. In late July it emerged that Irish Water failed the EU "market test," denying it stand-alone status to borrow for investment without driving up the national debt.

And even the traditional August holidays could not cut the hapless Irish Water some slack. Mid-August was dominated by rows and considerable doubt over whether those refusing or failing to pay their charges would still get the €100 "water conservation grant."

Environment Minister Alan Kelly finally called time on that one last week. He said "Yes" non-payers can successfully claim that €100 - for the short-term. In the longer-term such people would pay more dearly for that and the failure to pay.

Public reaction to that development suggested further disenchantment among those - about half the nation - who had opted to toe the line. It begged the question: How many of those who paid the first quarterly bill will pay the next one?

Little short of a miracle will keep water charges from being a major election issue. Fine Gael and Labour have few options but to try to play through the storm.

The litany of presentation errors by Irish Water, the failure to phase in a charge system which would be directly related to water conservation and investment in future services, has taken a huge and irreversible toll.

Today, stand by for a teatime battle over just how many march in Dublin. And that row over attendance numbers will have more than the usual edge to it.

Irish Independent

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