Saturday 19 January 2019

Why Simon should take his batin' and say 'hooray, no one pays'

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Irish people have the hump over the straw that broke the camel's back.

I knew there would be trouble from the minute I saw the water meters coming in to our street.

Us Irish will not pay for water unless there's a label on the bottle and if there's one thing we hate in this country, it's someone interfering with our bit of ground. The feud will go on forever and so will the water protests.

Soon enough there will be no charges for water unless you're keeping pet elephants eating crisps.

Last summer, I was strolling through a wealthy suburb in a part of Dublin where some of the people are mad for tall exotic yellow flowers, gold fish and golf green grass.

The sprinklers were on at full tilt as if there was a fire in a department store. A foreign gardener, no bigger than a garden gnome, dropped his hoe and hid behind the shed when he saw me coming. I'd say the poor man thought I was from the social welfare or emigration.

I was sure he had a pet flamingo in his care. So I was thinking maybe the bird needed water too, as it's a well-known fact pink flamingos, like elephants eating salty crisps, need a moist environment. The flamingo wasn't real or I suppose if he was, well then the bird too would have flown off.

So there they were with their big houses, spraying away with their sprinklers like a boozer who makes you stop the car because he's bursting. And there's me with my small pub having to pay for the water we use.

Every time you pee, it costs me. Could ye hold it until ye get home when ye can pee for free?

We used to have our water rates collected by Tadgh, the rate collector from Kerry County Council, and he understood the cyclical nature of small-town businesses. Tadgh would call after the Listowel Races or Writers' Week and we paid him as much as we could. But now Irish Water has taken over the collection and the other day we got a big whopper of a bill in the post. Somehow I don't see Irish Water giving us much leeway.

So I believe those who waste water should pay their share. I have no notion of subsidising some bollix with flamingos and sunflowers taller than a bunch in Van Gogh's meadow. I'm not going to cut off my ear if they cut off my water, but I will protest.

The whole water story is in a sorry, unfixable mess. Simon Coveney is in charge. He's a decent man who didn't create this problem, but now Simon is stuck with the job of sorting it out.

The smart thing to do for his leadership prospects would be to "take his batin'". Simon says "hooray, no one pay" and let us get on with fixing the really big problems like Brexit and health. But if he gives in, well then the half a billion cost of installing hundreds of thousands of decommissioned water meters will be hurled at every doorstep come the next election.

Then the Attorney General said the Government has to charge for water or the EU will come after us with massive fines.

And for all our bluster about freedom and independence, we are still very much dominated by a superpower. My guess is the EU will back off for a while on this, in case it backs us into a corner and triggers an 'Irexit'. But there will come a day of reckoning.

Barry Cowen is the Fianna Fáil man in charge. I have great time for him, but he too is in a dilemma. Barry doesn't want water meters but, like Simon, he believes the flamingo farmers should be punished. How will he measure the waste? And Fianna Fáil did promise to abolish water charges. The story as of just a few days ago was that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are neck and neck in the polls, with about 57pc of the vote between them.

Really, they should join up. I know, I know. My ancestors will be rattling in their coffins. We followed Collins. There are two statues and three pictures of Michael in our old home. We have only two Sacred Hearts.

But if the big parties join up well, then that would make Sinn Féin the main opposition. The Fianna Fáil-supported Fine Gael Government will probably get kicked out at the next election if it makes people pay for water, or anything else. Sinn Féin and its allies would sweep in to power. Gerry Adams would be taoiseach. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would have great difficulties with that scenario.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are having an affair right now on the lines of friends with benefits. One more row, though, and it's the end of the friendships and the benefits. Neither party could handle an election. Both are waiting for a big poll bounce.

We are facing in to another hung Dáil and not even a well-hung Dáil at that. So you can surely see by now Barry and Simon have no chance of fixing this.

But I have a plan. The compromise should be acceptable to all of the political parties, the independents and those of you who marched on the street when the Government imposed one tax too many.

Millions of kids march every day for water in Africa. Women and girls do most of the heavy lifting. The average time spent carrying dirty water is about six hours a day. Water hauling keeps kids out of school. A child dies every three minutes from water-related diseases, but who will march for their rights? Little girls and boys have wasted away from diarrhoea and other terrible sicknesses since I started writing this - 720 in all.

So here's the proposal. And it's a very fair compromise that will save lives and face. Let's make those who use too much water in this country pay for clean water in Africa. Ireland could lead the world.

Surely there is not one TD who will disagree with this plan.

Irish Independent

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