Saturday 20 July 2019

The Yates Anthology: Ministers, you have been warned

Water protests
Water protests
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

The most significant political story of the week was the fact that only 46pc of liable households paid their water bills.

A key survival skill of politicians is to know when to disbelieve your own propaganda. Ministers haven't yet figured out the depth of electoral hole they've dug for themselves.

Way beyond financial significance for the Exchequer of household water charges is the direct impact it'll have on the next election. Behind spin and spoof of this being a "solid start", campaign realists know that there's now a massive incentive for voters to oppose government candidates in order to directly ditch water liabilities.

A tipping point in this debacle is Fianna Fáil joining Sinn Féin, all left-wing groups and Independents in asserting that they're committed to the abolition of water tax.

Historically, 30pc of residents nationwide bitterly oppose previous attempts to impose revenue on water, especially in large cities. Those who previously paid weren't refunded post-abolition.

The Government repeatedly postponed the introduction of water charges from October 1 last year, costing taxpayers €68 million. Even reduction of the maximum payable to €160 hasn't enticed a majority to pay. Momentum from collections statistics is to bolster soft resistance to payment - you are not alone.

The greatest farce is the €100 Water Conservation Grant from the Department of Social Protection. This inducement to register is grounded in nonsense. There's no criteria to actually conserve water, as it's payable to everybody, irrespective of whether you have a public supply or not and run taps all day.

To expend €135 million without even any obligation to pay your dues to Irish Water results in an initial net loss of revenue, leaving aside establishment costs of the new utility company and metering installation expenditure.

As no sanctions apply for non-payment prior to July 2016, the timing of bills/enforcement/collection processes precisely coincides with door knocking of canvassers. The supposedly 'most sophisticated electorate in the world' will predictably simplify voting determination into a referendum on Irish Water.

Instead of sophisticated imagery of analogies with Greek party voting and government consequences, residents' groups will pump pamphlets exhorting them to "use their vote" to repel this additional household liability.

Community activists will be motivated to secure local solidarity, with direct nightmare consequences for FG and Labour.

Meanwhile, Irish Water undermines its own credibility with erroneous, incorrect data on inaccurate invoices. Anecdotes abound of incoherence.

Macro-economic narratives are set to be upended by micro-misery, regardless of logic. The outcomes of 20 marginal constituencies pivot on a few thousand malcontents on the ground, less than six votes per booth swing last seats.

Bertie the baffler

Bertie Ahern once accused his old adversary, the late Jim Mitchell, of being a "waffler". A vintage Bert reminded us of his unique "baffler" skills at the Banking Inquiry. Take a sentence of his, absorb and digest its content, then go figure was that an admission or an attack.

If days of forensic questions and intense scrutiny before Flood/Mahon Tribunal trained barristers couldn't dismantle his facade, there was no chance of political lightweights putting him under undue pressure.

Both critics and fans of Ahern will find vindication from his testimony to maintain their verdict of his tenure as Taoiseach. Having observed and debated with him at close quarters in the 1990s, I respect his immense personal political skills. He can charm his most acerbic, visceral critic into acquiescence through flattering bonhomie; all the while relying on cornerstones of his manipulation through self-deprecation and apparent humility.

His innate cuteness and cunning resulted in him being the longest serving and most electorally successful Taoiseach of modern times. Even his public appearance elicits memories of the cruel crash, amounting to negative nostalgia of utter depression in coping with collapsing asset values and stranded unsustainable debts. History must conclude his tenure as Taoiseach was a game of two halves: outstanding success from 1997 to 2004 -including the Belfast Agreement, economic growth through enhanced competitiveness and investment - resulting in a cakewalk re-election in 2002.

The second half was an unmitigated disaster of unregulated credit-crazed banks, tax-incentive-induced construction Klondike and exponential public expenditure splurges, all with one political imperative: to secure a third term.

It worked. He won, we lost.

Armchair Sunday

Escapism from the woes of Eircode, Junior Cert reform, National Economic Dialogue (for the deaf) and multiple other bore-fests? What a weekend for sports fans: Oaks at the Curragh; Tour de France; most especially, three provincial football finals are down for decision.

Tonight in Killarney, Kerry will surely punish Cork for not taking chances first time round - how often do All Ireland champions Kilkenny and Kerry, make no mistake when let off the hook, in replays? Donegal and Mayo have better players than their opponents, so they should oblige. A handy treble.

But the most unmissable Sunday spectacle has to be last nine holes of The Open at St Andrews. Wind, rain, bunkers and horrendous hazards await chokers, who inevitable flunk their chances of victory due to bottling it.

You don't have to play or enjoy golf to inhale the tense excitement in winning the Claret jug, hopefully culminating in a play-off involving my each-way fancy, Aussie Jason Day.

Irish Independent

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