Monday 17 June 2019

FF won the water fight but now a longer war looms

Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren
Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren
John Downing

John Downing

Micheál Martin is good at strutting when the occasion arises - but yesterday at Leinster House he set a new standard in walking tall.

In fairness, he has taken considerable political blows since 2011, and his manoeuvrings against Fine Gael, after a good election outcome, were probably due to him. His cock-a-hoop attitude yesterday could also be seen as part of the general and very visible relief among all deputies that they were not facing back on the election trail so quickly after the last one.

But his political gamesmanship against Fine Gael and Enda Kenny was down to simple Dáil arithmetic more than political guile. The acting Taoiseach just did not have the numbers and he had to concede considerable ground to Martin's team.

Make no mistake, for better or worse, this was old Fianna Fáil playing the game of politics - putting party first and last. We have many times, in this newspaper, stressed that Fianna Fáil had been committed to water charges since autumn 2009.

Martin's wobbling on the issue was driven by nerves about Sinn Féin, whose stance was in turn driven by fear of rivals in the AAA-PBP. Fianna Fáil have run all their best arguments to support their egregious stance - now let's see how the public receive them.

In fact, the Fine Gael side can claim some credit for securing the principle of Irish Water's continued existence. The prospect of reforms and changes to the utility must be managed with care for middle and lower-ranking staff who are unwitting victims in all this. But some good can come of a review of its workings.

But even discounting outgoing Labour Party Environment Minister Alan Kelly's excoriation by 100pc, he still has some powerful arguments. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need to convince people that our poor water and sewerage services will continue to be re-developed.

More significantly, they need to tell us how that will be funded. We will also need proof that non-payers will be pursued and/or those 61pc of people who did pay will be reimbursed.

So far, Fianna Fáil have grounds to believe they have won the water battle against Fine Gael. How this one plays in the war, otherwise known as the next election, remains to be seen.

For now, let's be grateful that another pointless election has been averted and the finish line in this nine-week, grim marathon is at last in sight.

Irish Independent

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