Monday 27 January 2020

Nicola Anderson: Kelly's spirit undampened as he takes up super soaker for last ministerial speech

Alan Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Alan Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

On what was almost certain to be his last speech to the Dáil as minister, an embittered AK47 opened fire on his colleagues with a water pistol.

A souped up super soaker, no less, which he had rigged up to simultaneously billow out clouds of steam - and jets of bile. It wasn't pretty.

There was his sheer rage and choking frustration for one thing. Alan Kelly went a peculiar shade of purplish red as he got everything off his chest.

It's not easy to be the last Egyptian left standing on the shore, raging at the treacherous parting of the Red Sea, that other great body of water.

Barry Cowen showed his contempt for Kelly's venting of spleen with a slow yoga-like cat stretch in his seat.

His message was unmistakeable: "The Hebrews are home and dry, buddy. Get off the stage."

But as the last man standing for Irish Water, it was left to Kelly to make a lonely and much belated closing speech for the Defence - in a trial which had already handed down a guilty verdict.

Of course there were vitriolic AK47 bullets sprayed across the room. We'd have missed them out of sheer nostalgia if he'd chosen to leave quietly.

But he was never going to do that.

And if you set that aside - along with the almost universal derision with which his words were greeted, he made some undeniable sense.

In fact, he gave a better account of Irish Water than he has ever given.

He probably should have given that speech about four years ago. Maybe he did, and we just weren't listening.

"Let nobody think we are in any way experiencing new politics here and this is the birth of a new political maturity," said Kelly.

It was hard to argue with him there, given the ongoing grinding of gritty Realpolitik in action.

"Staff in both Irish Water and their contractors must be reeling today - 500 of which are based on the southside of Cork city - in the backyard of the Fianna Fáil leader," he continued.

"I wonder what the 5,000 who work in the water and waste industry think of the latest development?

"The Labour party stands in solidarity with those workers today," he said, an uncomfortable silence falling in the chamber - empty though it was, with nobody at all on the Fine Gael benches.

Nobody was willing to step up to be the cheerleader for mass unemployment, it seemed.

Alan Kelly went on.

"Many people in this house have no idea what Irish Water actually do and there are quite a few who chose not to learn what they do," he continued.

He agreed with Noel Dempsey that it has been "almost impossible" to have a rational debate on water for the last few years - and so he said he was taking the opportunity to "nail a few myths".

"Firstly nobody pays for their water twice. Does our water system with boil water notices, leaking pipes and insecure supply look like something that we have paid for?" he thundered.

And while water was indeed a "human right," he said, the United Nations definition of access to water is "not free water for everyone but affordable water where the costs of providing it does not go about 3pc of people's incomes".

It was uncomfortable listening. And he went on and on until, finally, he ran out of time. But he was absolutely hell bent on finishing what he was going to say.

The Ceann Comhairle was insistent. "It's his last sentence," yelled Brendan Howlin, who seemed as frustrated as his Labour Party colleague.

It wasn't quite - but it was his last page.

Out of pity, the Ceann Comhairle let him finish - only to discover that Kelly's parting shot was to accuse Fianna Fáil of "environmental treason."

It is not likely that this will be the last time we will ever see the issue of Irish Water reach boiling point.

But for now, it's tepid baths all round as they tend to their wounds ahead of the next skirmish.

Irish Independent

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