Sunday 15 December 2019

Working it out: Water charges? Everybody else is doing it

Water protests
Water protests

John Masterson

'Everybody else is doing it, so why can't we" was a huge hit album for the Cranberries. It always reminds me of those argument with my parents when I wanted to grow my hair long. I would scream "But every one else is allowed," and would get an answer along the lines of "if they were all walking off the end of Dun Laoghaire Pier would you want to do that too?" That was the end of that. Being a dedicated follower of fashion did not rate high in my parents' value system. Which brings me to water charges. I keep on hearing the powers that be telling us that every other country has them. It immediately prompts me to think, so why should we?

Water is that bit more personal than gas, electricity or cable TV. You and I are made up of about 60 per cent of H2O. If you don't have enough of it, you do not live. In Ireland, we have too much of it dropping out of the sky for my liking. Yet if we have a week of sunshine the news will be bleating on about the impending drought because we only have enough clean water stored for a few days. This cycle has been going on since plumbing was invented and part of our taxes have been going to make sure clean wet stuff comes out of the taps. Paid for out of general taxation. I was very content with that system.

The nation's plumbing has been in dreadful shape for years, apparently. There is a lot of leaking but none of our governments or local authorities did much about it. That would have required money. Instead they have now decided that you and I should stump up for it. Now I am all for paying my way, but in my mind, water is that bit different. Life depends on it.

We could have fixed these pipes a hundred times over but the governments had much better ways to spend our money. If there is one thing you can count on governments to do it is to spend our money carefully. They spent a fortune on e-voting machines for which there was desperate need. That was a lot sexier than fixing pipes. They set up a series of very cost-effective tribunals. Far better than digging up drains.

I still go cold at the amount we spent on army deafness claims, but the soldiers only got what they were entitled to, according to their contracts with the government. And I see our TDs have pocketed an average of €147,000 in expenses since the last general election, with only one in 10 asked to provide receipts. Money well spent, I say. The same geniuses who gave us the HSE have now set up Uisce, Irish Water, the quango to out-quango all quangos. And the regulator who set the price for the water is being paid by us too.

I know a dog called Uisce, and it is pleading for a name change. I will pay for my water. But if our leaders had run our affairs competently we would be paying about €20, have a world class system, and no elderly person would ever die of dehydration because they were afraid to turn on the tap.

Sunday Independent

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