Wednesday 28 September 2016

Empty vessels making most noise over water

Published 30/03/2016 | 02:30

Given that it is a substance on which all our lives depend, it is a wonder we are so feckless with it. Stock image
Given that it is a substance on which all our lives depend, it is a wonder we are so feckless with it. Stock image

Given that it is a substance on which all our lives depend, it is a wonder we are so feckless with it.

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Much of the piping under the capital's streets was put down when Queen Victoria was still a toddler, so we should not be overly shocked at the news that 250,000 households may be hit with boil water notices, or that Irish Water fears more than 50pc of its drinking treatment plants could be at risk.

While none of this is especially surprising after decade upon decade of under-investment, it does raise serious questions about the wisdom of abolishing water charges.

But then again, when cheap political opportunism and pandering to populist appeal trumps putting the priorities of the country first, inevitably a price will have to be paid.

If Irish Water is concerned about what it terms "serious compliance challenges", the rest of us can scarcely afford to be complacent.

Especially as plants are already overloaded and are going to be put under even greater pressure due to population growth.

Surely these are matters we can not ignore?

The water utility has put together a €3.5bn investment plan for the regulator, setting out upgrades needed over the next five years.

Footing the bill for this must come from somewhere; and Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, for all their talk of axing the charges, have failed to convince as to where precisely it might be found.

Solutions, not sound bites, are required.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants the utility to develop water safety plans which involve a comprehensive risk assessment of sources.

There is an old proverb that says: "Don't throw away the old bucket until you know whether the new one holds water."

Certainly, many of the arguments put forward to date on axing charges do not hold water, nor perhaps should we be too amazed that it is the empty vessels making the most noise in the clamour for their abolition.

FG's housing plan just repeats past failures

They say you should treat each crisis as practice for the next one but, in order to do this, presumably one must acknowledge that there is one.

Last year, Brother Kevin, who has been at the frontline in the unequal battle against poverty in Dublin for decades, called on the government - remember what that was? - to declare a national emergency on homelessness. Of course, he was given short shrift.

Yesterday, Fine Gael unveiled its "action plan" for housing. By now, it's universally acknowledged that there is indeed a chronic housing shortage; coupled with an alarming shortfall in affordable properties for rent.

When one factors in that to buy a home in Dublin one would needs a deposit of €52,000, one gets a sense of the need for radical thinking. This is the context in which Fine Gael's proposals must be addressed.

The sad thing is the party offers nothing we have not heard before. Much of this was unveiled amid much fanfare by the FG/Labour coalition in Construction 2020. The problem is that so much has changed for the worse. We desperately need new homes, but we also need more homes in the rental sector, an issue that is not addressed.

Alas the opportunity to bring Nama into the equation in playing a role to ease the crisis has not been taken. As pointed out elsewhere in this paper, Nama's involvement, could be a game changer in helping to solve this crisis.

Yes, this is a discussion document, but it needs to be more ambitious to meet the gaping need.

Irish Independent

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