Thursday 29 September 2016

Water was always going to figure in the election - now it is centre stage

Published 30/07/2015 | 02:30

'Irish Water began its journey on the assumption that the majority would pay and a hard-core minority would not'
'Irish Water began its journey on the assumption that the majority would pay and a hard-core minority would not'

Those of you who know your bible already know that "Job's comforter" is someone who aggravates distress while pretending to give comfort.

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Those of you who know your politics will know "Job's comforters" are a sub-species of political life seen at times of calamity, oozing concern and driving everyone nuts.

A calamity like this Irish Water fiasco is for the governing parties.

But let's try some counsel from the Job's comforters' corner just for size: this situation is extremely awkward, but not necessarily fatal for the Government's re-election prospects. And for now the only option open to Government would appear to be boxing straight off the ropes out of the corner. It's time to keep the nerve, and box hard.

Irish Water began its journey on the assumption that the majority would pay and a hard-core minority would not. Evidence that the utility was not set up as cost-effectively as possible added to the non-payer side.

Poor government responses to people's genuine fears about their ability to pay yet another bill of indeterminate size was a further addition to the water refusenik side. The belated climbdown and the oddball compromise, which divorced actual usage from the charges levied, brought calm.

For a time it looked like the Government could manage through, albeit with a much larger number on the non-paying side than was ever necessary. The Eurostat reverse makes that less certain.

It brings the Government parties back where they should not be right now. The public are again asking fundamental questions about the national structures required to deliver water and sewerage services.

And they are asking the interlinked question of how to fund such a structure.

We have known since autumn 2014 that the numbers seriously questioning water charges was large and this would feed into a general election campaign constantly inching its way towards us.

Water was always going to figure in the election - but now it's centre stage.

There will be much noise in the political market on this issue. Already, we have seen Renua Ireland adjust their position, some would say in response to another fledgling party, the Social Democrats.

Renua favour charges, not these charges, and not via Irish Water. They are by no means the only explainers equivocating here. The water politics have only begun.

Irish Independent

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