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A watery debate and a missed chance for environment


Gardai in riot gear at Jobstown.

Gardai in riot gear at Jobstown.

Gardai in riot gear at Jobstown.

There's hardly any point reviewing radio coverage of the Jobstown incident, because you'll all have heard it. And heard it, and heard it - it was almost literally inescapable all week, the very definition of a media storm.

Every news show carried interviews and analysis of the scenes at that Irish Water protest, when Joan Burton's car was assailed for two hours. Paul Murphy, the TD at its epicentre, was interviewed of course. So too were his left-wing colleagues Joe Higgins and Ruth Coppinger, and a host of interested parties, of all stripes.

I found the whole thing depressing. Not so much Murphy's contribution: he comes across as immature and clownish anyway, so you wouldn't expect much.

More dispiriting was Joe Higgins' defence of the protesters. For an experienced, well-respected public servant to equivocate about this is incredible.

And the fact he continues to dole out the stock socialist phrases, decade after decade. . . as I say, it's depressing, in an Orwellian, "ideology before reason or reality" kind of way.

Ultimately, the most important interview of the week - indeed, on the entire water controversy - came on Drivetime (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 4.30pm). Mary Wilson spoke to Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth, who made the very salient point that the principle purpose of these charges is to conserve water.

That's been forgotten in the brouhaha about human rights, IMF, Government bullying, public finances and everything else. We've a moral obligation to reduce consumption of a precious resource (and all the other natural resources used in treating water: fossil fuels, metals, chemicals).

The only way to do that is to charge by use. The less water you use, the more money you save and the more Planet Earth will thank you.

There's no other way around this. I know that socialists have historically been indifferent to the environment, but surely everyone else can see this?

Coghlan pointed out that the Government made a big mistake by positing water charges as "the last austerity measure" instead of a crucial method of conservation.

He added that a flat charge is "the worst of all possible worlds - it's environmentally wasteful because there's no incentive to reduce", and socially regressive because rich and poor end up paying the same.

However, they can still save the day - and planet - through usage-based charges that won't cost people too much, by giving back with the other hand.

Coghlan cited as an example the introduction of a carbon tax and concurrent reduction in VAT.

The man spoke a lot of sense - but in these crazy days, who's in the market for that kind of thing anymore?

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