Socialists' dangerous brand of populism makes even Sinn Fein seem moderate
Maybe if they called it the 'water delivery charge' the Government wouldn't have attracted half as much trouble. When you live in a country where it rains so often, charging for water seems a bit obscene, but water still has to be delivered to your home in drinkable condition.
But this is hindsight speaking. Not many commentators saw this issue blowing up in the face of the Government quite as badly as it did. Probably the greater number of commentators believed the property tax was the more likely candidate to be electoral nitro-glycerine. The property tax is actually less fair than a water charge. Water has to be treated and delivered to your house day after day, but you buy your house once, you pay hefty stamp duty for the privilege, the Government doesn't help you with house repairs, the value of your house might bear no relationship to your income - and yet still you get hit with a property tax every single year.
Why didn't we rebel against this in the same way we have rebelled against the water charge?
Perhaps the water charge is simply the straw that broke the camel's back, thereby becoming the issue that ignited public anger once and for all. What now lies ahead politically is extremely uncertain because of the forces that are taking advantage of public anger.
When Mary Lou McDonald staged her Dail sit-in last week, whether it was opportunistic or calculated, it served two purposes. First, it distracted from the Mairia Cahill row and secondly it allowed her party to try and capitalise again on public anger over the waters charges because McDonald's questions to Joan Burton concerned the water charges.
But not even Sinn Fein seems able to outflank the Irish Socialist Party (aka the Anti-Austerity Alliance) on the issue. This should worry every sensible person. When even Sinn Fein's brand of populism isn't enough for many voters, then we know we're in trouble.
There has been plenty of reaction against what happened to Joan Burton when she arrived in Tallaght for a graduation ceremony last weekend. What happened to her is indefensible. Public protest should not become personal intimidation.
If, during last year's debate over the abortion bill, pro-lifers had staged a similar protest and effectively kept a Government minister prisoner for hours, the voices condemning them would have been much louder than the voices condemning last weekend's protesters, who included Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy.
The action would have been taken as prima facie evidence of the militancy and extremism lurking at the heart of the pro-life movement. Enda Kenny complained when he received a letter from a random pro-lifer comparing him to King Herod, but that pales into insignificance compared with what happened to Joan Burton.
The Irish Socialist Party is genuinely militant. Describing itself as being merely 'anti-austerity' doesn't even begin to capture it.
A couple of weeks ago in this column, I described how Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger told Sean Moncrieff on his show on Newstalk that she regarded the Russian Revolution as a "beacon" to the world. Go to the party's website and you'll find an article lauding the Russian Revolution in a similar vein. Lenin's Bolshevik Revolution is called "the greatest event in human history" and Russia under Lenin is called "the most democratic form of government ever embarked on". So this is their model for Ireland?
What is astounding is that more politicians and more journalists don't call them out on this. In the case of the politicians is it somehow because they are scared of the Socialists' ability to present themselves as 'champions of the people'? Or is it because they haven't been bothered to take the time to find out what the Socialist Party actually stands for?
Unfortunately, the Socialists are able to give themselves a veneer of credibility by virtue of the fact that (crony) capitalism (along with bloated public spending) can be blamed for a lot of what has gone wrong with the economies of most Western countries.
They say they offer an alternative. But the communists back in the 1930s offered an alternative to capitalism when Europe and America were in the middle of the Great Depression. A lot of people were taken in by that alternative, even though it was far worse than any version of capitalism.
Given the dire history of communist countries no one today has any excuse for being taken in by the promises of the Irish Socialist Party.
Between them, Labour and Fianna Fail used to account for the great bulk of the working-class vote. Both of these parties are moderate. Into the vacuum created by their demise in those areas has stepped Sinn Fein, various left-wing independents and the Irish Socialist Party.
None of these can even begin to form a credible government, or any kind of government. But what they can do is destabilise the country.
After the next General Election, who knows what combination of parties will be able to form a coalition or how stable that coalition will be?
How will international markets react to political instability here? What will it do to our ability to borrow at affordable rates on the bond markets?
Will we find ourselves frozen out of those markets again? Will the Troika be back?
The next election is shaping up as a straightforward choice between stability and instability.