Let's not use water charges to defame the EU and ourselves
Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30
So now the European Union is trying to upend the February general election result. That allegation is calumnious - and it is also just plain silly.
Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy told the Dáil yesterday that the EU was seeking to set aside the Irish general election outcome - which he said was a vote against water charges.
Mr Murphy cited German socialist writer Bertolt Brecht when he said the EU Commission wanted "to dissolve the people and elect another". It's such a great line - shame it has nothing to do with our continuing to pour raw sewage into watercourses at 40 locations around the country.
The AAA deputy said the EU was "authoritarian, capitalist and militaristic", as he fell back on exhorting everyone to join efforts to build a new and socialist Europe. Well, here we go again blaming the EU for our own inability to make a few simple decisions and stick with them. The Irish nation has many fine qualities but administrative competence, or even a semblance of political consistency, is not high among them.
We have got ourselves into a right old mess about a simple enough task and as we flounder about, we do what we often resort to doing: we just blame Europe.
It is, of course, also a good time to kick the entire European project - as it is battered and mired in a series of problems.
The EU Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, did his duty by answering a parliamentary question from Sligo-based MEP Marian Harkin on Monday. Mr Vella, by the way, is a veteran Labour politician from mighty Malta which has a population of fewer than half a million people. It's hardly great credentials for an election up-ender.
Reality is, the Commissioner simply stated the facts. In summary, Ireland did have an exemption from imposing direct water charges.
But that lapsed in July 2010 when Ireland said it would be imposing water charges. Commissioner Vella said we could not go back and invoke a new exemption. Cue calls that this is yet another example of EU bullying.
There is a far simpler reality. Fear about the level of water charges in autumn 2014 propelled Mr Murphy into Dáil Éireann in a by-election in Dublin South West. Sinn Féin were rocked back on their tracks as that by-election was very definitely theirs, until Mr Murphy's campaign pumped up the water pressure.
The follow-on was that Sinn Féin just went from being ambiguous on water charges to being decidedly opposed. Switch to Fianna Fáil, nominally the biggest party of opposition, and the authors of the 2010 water charges move in government with the Green Party.
Micheál Martin was looking at street protests, from which they should have been able to cadge some kudos. Their mantra of "Yes, water charges - but not these water charges and not now" looked rather hopeless in the circumstances.
So, Fianna Fáil flip-flopped with a pledge to end water charges into their election manifesto. Given Dáil arithmetic they strong-armed Fine Gael into the current suspension of charges, review commission and another run through the Dáil.
But six out of 10 people had paid their water bill. The Dáil line-up on water charges was purely coincidental. This is just gutless, opportunistic politics at its worst.