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Friday 15 December 2017

This result gives all the protest politicians a good reason to get up every morning

Paul Murphy with court summons at a press conference in West Side Boxing Club, Brookview, Tallaght. Photo: Mark Condren
Paul Murphy with court summons at a press conference in West Side Boxing Club, Brookview, Tallaght. Photo: Mark Condren
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

In a few days time, Paul Murphy will take the stand in open court for a trial that will gather huge public attention.

A specially enlarged jury of 15 men and women will be shown video footage from the events of November 14, 2014 - a day that kicked off a new chapter for the anti-water charges movement.

Mr Murphy and six others face the prospect of time in jail if they are found guilty of the false imprisonment of former Tánaiste Joan Burton and her special adviser Karen O'Connell during a protest that took place in the Tallaght suburb of Jobstown.

If the Solidarity TD is in fact imprisoned, he will follow in the footsteps of his mentor Joe Higgins, who along with Clare Daly was jailed in 2003 for breaching court orders which prohibited the obstruction of refuse collections in the capital.

Some 14 years ago, the single biggest campaign issue for the hard left was bin charges.

Leading members were more than willing to serve time in prison in the name of their cause.

Today, it is water charges. And the same principle applies. Thus, the set of proposals agreed by the Oireachtas Water Committee this week was not a victory for either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

Despite the apparent outrage and screams of betrayal by the hard left, the provision of some form of future charging regime keeps the populist campaign well and truly alive.

Even if - as predicted by Barry Cowen - nobody receives a bill at all, the inclusion of the term 'excessive usage' and 'levies' was enough to prompt the 'Right2Water' members of the committee to throw their toys out of the pram.

And the agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the issue of meters for new builds was the final straw.

But above all, the result from months of tedious negotiations on the future of domestic water charges leaves a reason for protest politicians like Mr Murphy to exist.

It gives him, and others, their purpose to get out of bed in the morning and pick up a megaphone and tap into the sense of public disillusionment with politics.

Indeed, the Dublin South-West TD and his colleagues have seen in recent weeks how political victories can have a long-term, detrimental impact on parties that spend all of their time championing a single issue.

Take Ukip, for example.

The party co-founded by Nigel Farage is now suffering from an existential crisis after the British public followed his advice and voted in favour of Brexit. Ukip's only MP, Douglas Carswell, even resigned citing the fact that Brexit had meant the party's job was done and it no longer needed to exist.

The campaign to take the UK out of Europe has put Ukip's very identity in jeopardy.

In Mr Murphy's press statement on Tuesday night, he failed to mention our obligations under EU law and why some form of charging and metering system is essential in ensuring the taxpayer is not open to fines that could run into the tens of millions.

He also did not refer to the fact that law-abiding citizens who, unlike him, paid their bills are now set to be refunded.

But Mr Murphy does conclude on the point that the movement which he has successfully built from scratch will not be 'defeated'.

"Mass non-payment of water charges and a protest movement can prevent any attempt to make these sections a reality by returning to water charges," he said.

Mr Murphy and his colleagues are smart enough to know that populism will always attract its fair share of followers. They know that their campaign has proven deeply effective in recent years and is responsible for the many U-turns and flip-flops performed by Sinn Féin and in turn Fianna Fáil.

But while populism sells well on the doors, so too does responsible politics. But for the far left, the choice is a no-brainer.

Irish Independent

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