Monday 20 May 2019

Never mind the small print - trust us

They have us wondering if the things they say are even distantly related to our reality

Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Paranoia beckons. There's not a day goes by when we don't wonder: what are they really up to? And, after last week's bizarre behaviour by the Taoiseach and his loyal supporters, words themselves have been drained of meaning.

Irish Water's latest effort to convince us there's nothing to worry about doesn't help. When the political establishment speaks, or Corporate Ireland, it's increasingly difficult not to wonder if there's some sleight of hand that conceals the true agenda.

There's always been a level of suspicion. But the paranoia level today is moving out of deep orange and into blazing red. I get letters about - well, they're not all about - the Fine Gael/CIA secret base on Inishbofin to facilitate their joint selective assassination programme.

It's not healthy, seeing something sinister behind every move of the establishment.

But it is, I'm afraid, appropriate.

Let's take just two things from the past week: First, Irish Water's claim that the supply of public water is not being and cannot be privatised; and, second, Taoiseach Enda Kenny's deliberate deception of his colleagues, his party and the citizens.

Call me paranoid, but I believe two things about Irish Water. I believe it's building a database designed to produce a stable flow of wealth from one section of society to another - not just this year or next, but into the far future.

And I believe that there's a long term privatisation strategy under way.

Now, on the face of it, privatisation is impossible. Last week, we showed that the small print on the Irish Water website referred to a procedure for selling the company, and how Irish Water "may disclose Customer data to the prospective seller or buyer"; and that customers' personal data "will be one of the transferred assets".

Irish Water said that the website shouldn't have said that. The references have been removed.

Irish Water's head of communications, Elizabeth Arnett, has made various media appearances to assure us that our personal data is safe with them, and that there will be no privatisation.

The legislation, she said, prohibits privatisation. On Prime Time she said: "Irish Water cannot be sold, it's against the law". So, that sounds solid. No privatisation, it would be illegal.

But, would it? No doubt Ms Arnett believes so. She would have received a thorough briefing on what Irish Water wishes to tell us; the legal prohibition on privatisation would no doubt have been drawn to her attention. She would not, we can be confident, have been made privy to privatisation plans, as she would not then be able to stand over the company's claim that it cannot be sold - and there's no doubt that her statement was made in good faith.

What is the legislation that prohibits privatisation? It's the Water Services Act of 2013, part 1, which deals with company formation.

Section 5 (4) of the Act says that the Board will have one share in the company, and all remaining shares will be halved between the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Finance.

Section 5 (6) says: "The Board shall not . . . alienate the share issued to it in accordance with subsection (4)".

Archaic language, but clear enough. Under this legislation, the Board is indeed prohibited from selling its one share. But, see those three dots?

Where those three dots are, the legislation says: "without the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance".

So, the legislation prohibits the Board from selling the company - unless the government wants it sold. The law, therefore, specifically allows for privatisation.

At which point, no doubt, our personal data will indeed become a saleable asset.

In internal strategy and training documents (Google them) Irish Water teaches its people about its strategy for changing our perception of ourselves.

A flow chart admits that we are "citizens". Then, an arrow points to the next stage, where we will be taught to see ourselves as "consumers"; and the next arrow on the chart takes us to the third stage of revelation.

And there we accept that we are "customers".

In two easy steps - we go from being citizens of a republic to being customers of a company.

The remodelling of capitalism goes on apace - a "new funding model" to refloat the system after the crash of 2008. To this end, income tax will be cut slightly, to make the gullible cheer, and the shift of wealth via "charges" and "levies" will continue.

It's all about "funding models". These lads would tax us for breathing, if they could find a way to attach meters to our throats.

While we were all trying to understand what's going on with Irish Water, and hoping it was more benign than it seemed - Enda Kenny chose that week to play silly buggers with the Seanad.

His preferred candidate for the Seanad bye-election, John McNulty, was dipped into the board of the Museum of Modern Art, so he'd have a smell of art off him, to qualify for the cultural panel.

A blatant stroke, but Enda made it clear it wasn't his doing. It was Minister Heather Humphreys's responsibility. She dutifully tried to outline the wonderful qualities that allegedly caused her to appoint McNulty.

In short - both of them sought to convince us it had nothing to do with Kenny. Michael Noonan weighed in, with a weird explanation about how in big parties "there's bound to be differences of opinion", and what mattered was that they "work through it as honestly as possible".

This was soothing stuff, putting Noonan's credibility behind the claim that nothing wrong was going on. And it was entirely divorced from reality. Noonan was saying that what was happening wasn't happening, that something else entirely was happening - to do with honest disagreements about policies.

This is beyond odd. This is seriously disturbed.

Then, it turned out none of them were aware of the law - McNulty couldn't be appointed while seeking election. The whole thing wasn't just a stroke, it was a stroke they were too incompetent to carry through.

At which point, according to the Irish Times, "Kenny apologises over McNulty debacle".

Really? Kenny said, "I take responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is."

Where's the apology? He takes responsibility. For the issue evolving into something distorted by our twisted imaginations.

"I accept responsibility perhaps for not taking a closer view of how this evolved." And Heather Humphreys had nothing to do with it.

Why didn't he - and she - tell us this at the beginning? Why did they mislead us that it was all about Humphreys?

Is it really okay for the Taoiseach to do what he did, then he makes a non-apology and everyone moves on?

Did Enda Kenny lie to us?

You won't find a straightforward statement in which he said he had nothing to do with the stroke. Instead, he said, "ministers are free to make nominations to particular boards". Sleeveen language. Deliberately deceptive, while taking pains not to formally lie.

Such things have happened down through the years. It's part of political life. But these days, under this government there's an arrogance born of self-belief that allows them to say what they like - because, they're the Good Guys, and what matters is that they win.

Mind you, I'm a refugee from the paranoid Seventies. We had a saying: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

By the way, having done my homework I can reveal that there's no Fine Gael/CIA assassination drone base on Inishbofin. It's on Inishturk.

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