Draining the system
“Power over principle for Fine Gael. Populism over leadership for Fianna Fail." Labours Alan Kelly writing in the Irish Independent is furious. The former Environment minister says that Simon Coveney and Barry Cowen are to blame for the mess the State now finds itself in.
The issue of water became the major sticking point in negotiations to allow a Fianna Fáil confidence and supply arrangement, resulting in the suspension of charges and the setting up of an expert commission, which reported this week. The Commission says that Irish water should be paid for from general taxation.
Alan Kelly claims that Simon Coveney and Barry Cowen contrived between them to allow this situation to develop. He also says that the working man and woman will ultimately get stuck with the bill once again, paying for everyone's water usage through general taxation. They would have been paying anyway, via the billing system and it's highly likely that those on social welfare would not have had to pay, so his point, it could be argued, is moot.
It's worth taking a look at the mess that is the attempt to charge for water in Ireland. Meters were installed in almost a million homes at a cost of €580 million, will the rest now be installed simply to detect those who over-use water and to find leaky pipes and if so, is it worth the cost?
Nearly a million people who paid up feel like fools for trying to do, what they were told, was their civic duty; a duty which left them out of pocket, while those who haven't paid feel vindicated.
To abolish Irish Water altogether, according to the agency itself, would cost €7billion.
Ultimately, if the special Dáil Committee accepts the Expert Commission Report, the investment needed for water will come from general taxation, which means that it will be neglected again. There are always many more pressing demands on State money than investment in water pipes. Unless of course, taxation is increased to pay for water investment - good luck to whichever government tries to bring that one in.
And so, the mess gets even more complex and Alan Kelly fumes from the sidelines. He has to take some responsibility for the disaster though. The former Minister's attempts to take the heat out of the water debacle resulted in the €100 Conservation Grant being paid to everyone who registered with Irish Water, even those who weren't paying an Irish Water bill. This was one of the reasons why Irish Water failed the Eurostat test and had to remain on the State books rather than being considered a separate entity.
What is clear, it that politics and water charges, do not make harmonious bedfellows.
Michael Noonan is reported to have told a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting this week to get the 'dead cat' of water charges off the field before the next election. However much remains to be resolved before then. Minister Coveney is coming under pressure to issue refunds to those households who did pay their Irish Water bills. Meanwhile President of the ICMSA John Comer has objected to farm families who use private wells and group schemes "paying on the double" if funding of general water services is to come out of general taxation. Alan Kelly can throw stones at Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, but the truth is that neither he nor those who now hold the reins of power can deal with the water charges quandary.
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