Monday 26 February 2018

If Leo's not careful, bin row could be his Irish Waterloo

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
John Downing

John Downing

"I for one would prefer to pay for the rubbish I produce with the incentive of paying less if I recycle and reduce."

That was the view of a brash young fellow called Leo Varadkar just over a decade ago when he was a county councillor with big political ambitions.

Well, our new Taoiseach is being challenged to transform this personal conviction into nationwide work in practice.

And he well knows that his handling of moves to relate bin charges to amounts of rubbish generated is a big test which will count come election time.

Varadkar sat in cabinet with Enda Kenny as that 2011-2016 government made a total mess of efforts to fund a new water-funding system, to end 50pc supply losses to leaks, and the pumping of raw sewage into water courses at 40 locations.

Now that he has taken the helm, he faces a similar fiasco in relation to framing a sensible national bin-charging system which will incentivise recycling and rubbish reduction. There is a febrile mood abroad among the electorate and opponents of water charges, also long-term opponents of bin charges, are ready to switch battlegrounds.

Mr Varadkar has spent his first fortnight in Government Buildings fighting a pesky battle about how judges are appointed. That arcane issue is, as one veteran senior civil servant always liked to say, "awkward but not fatal".

People have lives to live, and few will bother learning the old system of judge-making, the changes in appointments procedures, and a comparison between the two. But most people have a bin - and must pay to have it emptied. This one must be defended on the doorsteps by Fine Gael TDs, senators and councillors.

So, Varadkar and his Government had better get it right. And so far the portents do not look too good.

The change from flat-rate bin fees to a charge system per bin emptied, or by weight of rubbish, was supposed to happen precisely a year ago. But amid much hullabaloo it was deferred until today. On Thursday, we learned that it was being further deferred until September.

A promised public information campaign over the past year never happened. Half the nation's households have no idea what they will be asked to pay by bin companies not subject to price control systems. Ordinary people, already grappling with extras like local property taxes, and continuing low incomes, fear the worst.

People with medical problems which generate more waste through things like incontinence pads are promised a €75 per year grant. A low-income waiver system has not yet been provided. But Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will next week table Dáil motions seeking these.

Like the case of Irish Water, there are serious big picture environmental issues at stake. We are sending too much rubbish to the landfill dumps.

Irish Independent

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