Thursday 20 June 2019

FF and FG have done the dirty on us, and they know it

Micheal Martin, Simon Coveney and Enda Kenny
Micheal Martin, Simon Coveney and Enda Kenny

Gerard O'Regan

So who now says it is still better having Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil playing footsie with the future of the country's water supplies, rather than having another general election?

This was a dismal week all round, as the worst excesses of short-sighted self-interest were played out on the national stage.

Let us no longer be fixated on the Independent TDs, and what the metropolitan set bemoan as their lack of vision. Some of the best-known names in the two big parties are just as bad. Maybe they are even worse, given their swagger of assurance, when they tell us they are above all such tacky carry-on.

In retrospect, it's all a bit inevitable what has come to pass. Crass populism has won out in the end. Meanwhile, the country is indeed jaded from interminable discussions, and political point scoring, on the Irish Water debacle.

But on the basis of common sense, and best international practice, what could be done, and what should be done, on this overly analysed issue is obvious.

Instead, we are left with a hotchpotch of ill-thought-out plans and proposals. These have the capacity to cost the country millions of euro in unnecessary waste and duplication over the coming years. And at the end of it all, we will still have a less than fit-for-purpose national water scheme, unless somebody steps in to halt the current charade.

This miasma is all to do with short-term political one-upmanship.

The old Fianna Fáil instinct to get one over on the opposition has trumped its better judgment. Its stance on water charges - essentially penalising those who obeyed the law of the land and paid their dues and rewarding those who did not - will come back to haunt the party.

Enda Kenny and Fine Gael have been no better, and have displayed a singular lack of moral courage.

They also lacked the political will to call Micheál Martin's bluff, because it would risk the dreaded general election.

And so with Fianna Fáil having had the doubtful pleasure of rubbing Fine Gael's nose in it - and the latter having sold out on its core principles in a desperate bid to cling to power - we are left with a kind of nowhere plan for Irish Water.

As of now its future will be chaotic, and, worst of all, open to ongoing interference by politicians determined to use it as a plaything for their own advancement.

The bottom line is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have done the dirty on us all, and they know it.

On another level, there is even further evidence that the vicious competition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will become one of the main features of the new Dáil. This is, of course, one of the primary reasons why Martin and his cohorts were lured into such a madcap policy on water charges. But fighting the Shinners in their own playground, and on their terms, is a tactic fraught with danger.

There are 10 seats and more which Sinn Féin want to win off Fianna Fáil whenever the next election comes. This will be a pivotal battle. If Martin's party are to lose out significantly on this front it will scupper their chances of getting into government.

Meanwhile, incoming Fine Gael ministers will know they have acquired their seals of office only by default, which will further erode their sense of authority.

Admittedly, the party was in a pretty tight corner during the talks, especially with the leadership issue still to be resolved. But a certain self-loathing is in the air, from top to bottom, within the Fine Gael heartland. They sold out, and no matter how justifiable the reason, nothing can change that fact.

Enda Kenny is reported to have told his outgoing ministers that history will be kind to them, and to their achievements, given the near collapse of the economy at the time his government took office.

There may well be something to that - and the performance of Kenny as Taoiseach will receive due acknowledgement with the passage of time.

But the grubby deal, deemed necessary to stay in government, has cast a deep pall over any kind of vibrancy in the party.

All those within Leinster House who wanted to use Irish Water as a political football have had their way. Meanwhile, Sinn Féin and some of the left-wing groupings will slog it out as a sideshow, as they clamber on board the next round of knee-jerk street populism.

Leo Varadkar, with an eye on the main chance, couldn't resist telling us how he had to wrestle with his conscience over the whole affair. He then assured one and all he had to plump for political survival over principle.

But the best contribution of recent days was made by acting Environment Minister Alan Kelly, who warned of "environmental sabotage". Given the current antics of the two bigwig parties - and with so much other skulduggery afoot - maybe it's time to remember those who fought the good fight on Irish Water and who lost out badly.

Come back Labour - all is forgiven.

Irish Independent

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