Saturday 20 January 2018

Parties must stop posturing on water and work together for the common good

Taoiseach Enda Kenny Photo: Tony Gavin
Taoiseach Enda Kenny Photo: Tony Gavin

Brian Hayes

There is now a real danger that the country could be plunged into an election that nobody wants and the country certainly does not want. An early election would send a clear message to the electorate that the two centre parties are not willing to compromise for the sake of the common good.

It would damage Ireland's hard-won reputation abroad as a stable country for investment with a stable political system. It would give a pyrrhic victory to a minority, although loud, who believe you govern by slogans.

We all know that water has been the toxic touchstone issue of the past three years. Every party, except for the Greens, has played politics with it. From the Sinn Féin flip-flop that water was not a "red line" issue if it entered government, to the Fianna Fáil position in 2010 which signed us all up to water charges, which at the time they envisaged to be €500 per year per household. It's fair to say the level of consistency on water hasn't been great.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael urgently need to come to a deal over water. The water committee wrangling over the meaning of words is a bit like bald men fighting over a comb. The posturing on the plinth must come to an end.

Nobody believes an early election will give a radically different result. Last year, Fianna Fáil declined the offer of a grand coalition with Fine Gael. A collapse of the current confidence and supply arrangement would mean this type of deal would not be considered after the election. Given the fact that most of the hard left do not want to go into government, where would the government come from?

It would leave Sinn Féin in the driving seat. Hot on the heels of electoral success in Northern Ireland, it would present itself, having ditched Mr Adams, of course, as the only viable alternative. As it loses interest in Stormont and creates as much trouble politically as it can south of the Border, Sinn Féin sees an early election as a good thing. And, as we know, its strategy has always been the same - Sinn Féin and all its shadowy friends come first and Ireland's interest comes trotting well behind.

I believe Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin want the current deal to continue. Their experience helped make the deal possible and both men have shown each other the necessary level of respect for the deal to succeed. It also helped that neither of them have inflated egos.

Fine Gael must understand that the hybrid model of political co-habitation is difficult for Mr Martin and his party. In short, Fine Gael must stop taking Fianna Fáil for granted.

Fianna Fáil needs to understand it must make the arrangement work for one simple reason; it may need such an arrangement itself in the future. Also, many Fianna Fáil supporters pay water charges through group water schemes in rural Ireland, with many more resenting the antics of the anti-water rates campaign.

The broad parameters of how to sort out the politically charged issue of water has been agreed by Dáil committee.

The political temperature on water and the political point-scoring is now getting in the way of a final deal between both parties.

The provision of clean water, the disposal of waste water and how all the necessary investment and annual costs are financed are the all-important issues. Both parties need to agree on how the massive programme of investment which is required will be funded into the future. While that may not satisfy the "polluter pays" principal under the directive, it would at the very least set out an investment programme which is so desperately needed. That is presuming both can find the money to do it.

The most important political issue facing this country is Brexit. The challenges posed by Brexit will stretch our political leaders and our public service as never before. Political stability will be required for several years to come if Ireland is to successfully negotiate its way through the Brexit negotiations.

It is crucial that the two centre parties work together for the common good. In the years to come, big decisions will be made by the British government and the European Union which will directly impact Ireland and its people. Our interests will be best defended by a stable and united political front on these major issues.

Bad politics always have bad consequences. Look at the Brexit decision.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael need to learn from the German experience. There, the two centre parties agree to respect each other and govern together in the national interest - and Germany is the winner.

Ireland has come through a deep recession. When the crisis was at its deepest, parties of the left were arguing that Ireland should have followed the example of Greece. We don't hear them saying that any more. Another poster country for parties of the left was Venezuela. That country is now in economic and political chaos.

There is no guarantee that the present favourable economic circumstances will continue. We face significant industrial relations problems in the semi-state and public sector. And last week, the tax and expenditure returns for the first quarter, and especially for March, were worrying, to say the least.

For now, the confidence and supply arrangement is the only game in town. Both parties need to make it work.

Brian Hayes is a Fine Gael MEP for Dublin

Irish Independent

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