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Lise Hand: Big stink as septic tank rebels charge Leinster House

By the hokey but it was stirring stuff. His hands gripped around the pole of a large flag, Galwayman Diarmuid O'Conghaile was in full oratorical flow, and there was no stopping the man.

"We're taking a stand here today, and behind this battered flag of Contae na Gaillimhe which has flew many times when we faced the men of Kerry or Kilkenny in Croke Park," he roared. "But today Phil Hogan you face the people of Connemara and Ballinasloe and all of rural Ireland.

"And we will face you and we will not wait in the long grass anymore for you because like Johnny Turk we're out of the trench and we're going to fight you head-on," he bellowed -- Johnny Turk being the merciless enemy in the war ballad 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda'.

These doughty lads of the West weren't messing about with a bit of chanting and poster-waving in the manner of an, ahem, bog-standard protest outside Leinster House. Not a bit of it, having driven since dawn in buses up from the corners of Galway, the attitude was, when we're out, we're out.

And so the Charge of the Septic Tank Brigade to the gates of Leinster was a colourful affair. They had brought a toilet with them and all, as a pertinent prop to illustrate their admanatine opposition to the introduction of a €50 septic-tank registration charge -- a charge which affects rural Ireland, as it's being imposed on almost half a million households who are not part of a public- sewage scheme.

What's more, if any tanks fail an inspection, householders will be obliged to upgrade or replace them, which could cost thousands of euro.

And so, the several hundred men (and a few women) from the West were in fighting form on Kildare Street yesterday afternoon. And along with the toilet -- which proved a handy seat for the protest's organiser, Padraig 'An Tailliura' O'Conghaola from Rossaveal who was minding the megaphone and trying to keep a bit of order on proceedings.

There was an impressive array of giant paintings on black banners, tastefully depicting images such as sunsets and sailboats and a puzzled-looking lassie sitting on a toilet.

And there was quite a smorgasbord of slogans being waved about: from Winston Churchill's observation, "We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up by the handle"; to more earthy exhortations, such as: "Septic Tank Charges are A Pain in the Hole"; and the bi-lingual "'Cac' Hogan RIP -- Ireland's Saddam Hussein"; to the pithy enjoinder, "Get A Grip -- Stand Up to Europe".

However, it was the speeches that got the crowd into the spirit. Eager opposition TDs gathered around the toilet to offer their amplified support. Independent deputy Mattie McGrath, who has been even more vocal than usual on this matter, got stuck in.

"I met a few backbench Fine Gael TDs last week and they were boasting the fact that Big Phil was a great man to put through the household charge, and now he's going to drive through the septic-tank, rural-Ireland charge. And that's what they think. We have to show them different. We can stand together and stand united," he hollered.

But then he lost the run of himself -- "Where Tipperary leads, Ireland must follow!" he declared to the bemusement of the Galwegians.

There was fiery rhetoric a-plenty -- Sinn Fein councillor Tomas O Curraoin emphasised the frustration of the farmers. "We lost our turf, we lost the sheep on the mountains, we lost our fishing rights and the farmers in east Galway and other parts of Ireland have lost the right to walk on their land unless they comply with rules and regulations of a foreign power beyond in Brussels."

Alas, it seems there's a split in the septic camp. There was a bit of a barney when one Galway county councillor, Seamus Walsh, reckoned "a couple of snots" were trying to block him having his say, and words were exchanged, clearly audible through the disputed megaphone.

"Gimme the mic," demanded Seamus, as he was counselled, "that f**ker there is only winding you up" -- which in turn provoked the spirited response: "don't call anybody a f**ker." Mindful of the mic, and the media, another lad muttered, "Keep it clean, lads".

But it was a largely good-humoured protest -- the debate inside the Dail on the issue was far more fractious, as Phil Hogan spent several hours in debate on the bill, being heckled at every turn by Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy Rae.

It was like the Cookie Monster being barracked by Statler and Waldorf. At one stage, Mattie was moaning about being given a short shrift during a committee debate on the matter.

"We got on fine on Committee Stage in the morning last week but when we came back after dinner, Deputy Coonan, who was acting chairman, ate something that did not agree with him. I do not know if it was the spuds, the cabbage or the salmon," pondered Mattie.

By evening, Ming Flanagan was up on Twitter. "Big Phil and The Chancers talking shite in the Dail," he tweeted crankily.


Irish Independent