By John O’Hara
So it seems that Enda Kenny his finally reached a deal for a minority government, which will see him make history as the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to ever be re-elected. It has taken weeks of negotiations all played out in the public eye, with neither party wanting to give in on their ‘red-line’ issues but a suspension of water charges has paved the way for a deal.
This may not be a popular opinion, but I think the suspension of water charges is totally absurd. The clamour about water charges has been totally over-hyped and in reality this is not a victory for anyone. If water charges were scrapped tomorrow for good, we’d have the ‘Right 2 Water’ campaign telling us that it would be a massive victory, but it wouldn’t be and here’s why.
Water charges were €160 per year as it stood. This is only a fraction of what people are paying in USC and in pension levies in the public sector. The HSE is falling in around us, our education system is continually failing and continually underfunded and now that water charges have been suspended, the money is going to have to come from somewhere.
Would be not be better off paying the €160 a year for water and pump the excess money into sorting out the health service, where people are lying on trollies for days or waiting for months in agony for elective procedures that are being cancelled daily to reduce the trolley figures? Would be not be better providing our young people with the resources needed in this new era of education? Would be all not be better off if the government was able to cut USC further?
The issue of water charges took off like a fire in a sea of petrol because of the haphazard attempts to rush it through the Dail by Fine Gael and the equally haphazard attempt of then minister, Phil Hogan to introduce the utility that is now Irish Water. The millions that were wasted and the ambiguity that surrounded the issue of privatisation all added to the hatred for this charge by members of the public. It should be stated that there was a similar reaction to the introduction of property tax but this anger eventually subsided and it is now paid to the revenue annually with little fuss. Irish Water could have been handled the same way, had it not been for the arrogance and pig headedness of Phil Hogan, whose aim was to bull doze the charge through before riding off into the sunset with Brussels his final destination.
All of this laid the foundation for the level of anarchy and rebellion that unfolded on the streets of Dublin and beyond. The Government must take sole responsibility for this. But, now when the utility has finally found its feet, after squandering millions and people have finally succumbed to paying for water, the government have suspended the charges, in order for Enda to regain his throne.
It seems ridiculous that people are willing to take to the streets over €160 a year but are content to allow the government to impose toxic levels of austerity, which have crippled low and middle income workers. People have raged against Irish Water but pay the more expensive property tax. They marched in unison against the water charge, but we watch on in fascination as the HSE spend billions and billions and continue to provide a health service fir for the third world. We are a paradoxical people but this level of stupidity angers me.
Yes I understand that this ‘was the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ but that argument is not justification for the way the electorate put water charges front and centre of the recent elections. Mental Health, the HSE, the education system and homelessness took a back seat, while a measly charge of €160 a year became ‘the’ issue. And now, because of this, the formation of a new government has hinged on this issue and it will continue to be a noose around the new administration’s neck.
The fact of the matter is that we have a water system that is archaic and outdated. It is crumbling around us and beneath us. If it is not addressed now, we will have water shortages in all major cities in the next two decades. The health of our nation could be affected by the standard of drinking water from our taps and all because we didn’t want to pay €160 year.
Had Enda Kenny signed a declaration that water would never be privatised and that people would be rewarded for conservation, I believe that this could all have been avoided. Our natural inclination to distrust politicians, is central to our problem with the new utility. That Denis O’Brien lurks behind the administration and his past dealings with mobile operators added fuel to the fire but we are the ones who must now suffer.
The money for water will come from somewhere. It will come from the pay rises we were promised as a result of a cut in the USC, it will come from the education fund which is low enough, it will come from the HSE which is crying out for more money, but more importantly it will come from your pocket. Make no mistake, you will be paying for water.