Tuesday 27 September 2016

Kevin Doyle: Old politics of Cowen and Coveney sparked water crisis

Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30

Anti-water charges protesters make their way down Dublin’s O’Connell St in February. Photo: Frank McGrath
Anti-water charges protesters make their way down Dublin’s O’Connell St in February. Photo: Frank McGrath

In years to come people will speak about the battle to stop water charges as though it was a massive civil rights movement.

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Images of thousands of people marching through towns around Ireland will be used to immortalise the story about how Phil Hogan and the Labour Party tried to con the country.

And most likely the next generation will ask why? Why were we so set against a charge that is common in most other civilised places?

So let's not rewrite history and pretend that water charges are a method of torture conjured up by a government that wanted us to vote it out of office.

When we are asked why, let's try to recall a reasonably accurate picture of how politicians ensured water charges became more hated than the 'much-hated' Universal Social Charge.

Back in 2010, the Fianna Fáil-Green-PD government drew up plans for potential water charges and a metering system.

The agency set up to oversee it would have been tiny compared with Irish Water but the bills would have been substantially higher.

That government collapsed in a blaze of economic destruction and Fine Gael-Labour took over. The bigger party was committed to water charges, the smaller one wasn't.

Roll on to 2013 and the Coalition introduced legislation obliging Irish Water to introduce charging for the supply of domestic water services.

It was an unmitigated PR disaster at a time when the Government had already pushed ordinary families to the limit - and so began the protest movement.

Now, three years later, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are still blaming each other and continue to make it worse. Barry Cowen's declaration that the abolition of charges would be a "red-line" issue for a FF-FG coalition was only made worse when Simon Coveney sought to entertain it. Now both sides have backtracked. The politics and not the policy is why most people hate paying €3 a week for water. For TDs, the very mention of Irish Water is playing with fire.

Irish Independent

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