By James Quigley
Does anyone notice how the Irish Times is churning out articles lately in support of Irish Water and their controversial water charges? Certainly for a newspaper these particular issues are topical especially given the present political uncertainty in the country and how the very existence of Irish Water is at stake. it is no wonder that some very influential parties are worried and it would be no surprise that they would use influence to protect their interests. Now that things are hotting up in the political arena where parties and Independent TDs are jostling for power in a quest to form a new government, there might just be other motives at play here.
Political uncertainty in Ireland has arisen out of the public's opposition to Irish Water and water charges. This opposition was demonstrated in the results of the Irish General Election on February 26th, 2016. Support for the former Fine Gael/Labour coalition government collapsed and it went instead to parties and independents opposing austerity, corruption and supporting the abolition of Irish Water, water charges.
The incredible story of this election was how well Fianna Fail did especially since it was crushed at the last election. It is the view of many that this success was in now small measure due to it's policy priorities on Irish Water.
Irish Times Articles
Reading the Irish Times articles, a person could be forgiven for thinking that there is some type of agenda at play. Could the media and interested parties be trying to influence political decisions? Certainly Irish Water, at present, is very worried about their very existence. This would probably be enough for the company to do all it can to protect itself. And what better way to stamp it's influence than through the media. It wouldn't be the first time for newspapers to be used in this way after all 'the pen is mightier than the sword'. Here's a quote from the Irish Times' first editorial after the 1916 Rising,
“the surgeon's knife has been put to the corruption in the body of Ireland, and its course must not be stayed until the whole malignant growth has been removed... Sedition must be rooted out of Ireland once for all” Irish Independent, 'Out of step: Dublin newspapers' reaction to the Rising', Feb. 18th 2016.
Although not as blood thirsty as the 1916 editorial quite a few of the more recent Irish Times articles involving Irish Water seem to be bias in their attack against opposition . Maybe the reporters and contributors are right and are only voicing common sense. Perhaps there is nobody in the opposition camp that has the ability to voice any credible argument against their sound economic plans . Or could it be 'money counts' and 'he who pays the piper calls the tune'? Certainly Irish Water has plenty of clout, a seemingly never ending supply of money and what seems to be a squadron of enthusiastic artist ready and willing to blow it's horn.
Political State of Play
We are now just over a month since the Irish General Election which took place on February 26th, 2016. See graphic below for results. Thirty two days later and we still have no Government. There has been one inconclusive vote held for a Taoiseach and the final crunch vote comes next week on April 6th .
None of the major parties on their own can form a government and realistically the options are limited. The two right wing parties Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fail (FF) are in the driving seat but neither can form a government without support from other parties, Independents or each other.
Round one of talks with Independents have already taken place and round two takes place during this week. It is looking like neither FG or FF on their own can gather enough support to reach 79 seats for an overall majority.
FG and FF could form a grand ultra right wing majority coalition. No doubt this would be the preferred option of the establishment and some party members. However, there still remains an entrenched animosity or rivalry between these parties and having tasted power individually neither want to relinquish it. Also with a choice of establishment parties such as FG and FF there was always the illusion of democracy. It is because of this that some type of minority FG led government is the most likely. In order to achieve this FG will have to do a deal with FF and it is looking like FG's Universal Social Charge policy and FF's anti Irish Water and position on water charges policy are going to be the main bargaining chips. Will it be so long people, all you who voted for our red line issue, the abolition of Irish Water?
Sinn Fein can not be let off the hook lightly. With 24 seats they have quite a bit of say. Theoretically they couldwield a balance of power and could prevent a total right wing government. This could be done by them forming a coalition with so called fellow republicans Fianna Fail. This scenario seems unlikely since SF categorically refuses to talk with FF. They see themselves as socialists and they do not want to prop up a right wing party. However, to the layman's eye this stance seems rigid, it looks like principles before people or party before country. This is an option former Fianna Fail Tanaiste Mary Couglan, believed possible when she said “ a coalition deal with Sinn Fein in Government could work if they wanted it to.” Irish Mirror, March 21st , 2016'Fianna Fail can go into power with Sinn Fein'
Will Fianna Fail do a deal and renege on their manifesto core priority of abolishing Irish Water and ending water charges? It seems Irish Water and the Irish Times thinks so and they are both moving in for the kill.
Irish Times Onslaught
In many of the recent Irish Times articles there seems to be an emphasis on rubbishing any opposition to Irish Water. They present the company as a knight in shining armour and warn us of impending doom. Quite often the articles highlight the old decrepit water system run by 31 county councils as inefficient and cumbersome. The number 31 is mentioned often and we are constantly reminded that if we want pristine and healthy water then a modern centralised and cost effective agency is the only way to go.
Irish Times Friday, March 25 'Noel Dempsey: Safe drinking water requires a national utility'.
Noel, an ex Fianna Fail environment minister, is a good catch for the any newspaper but he is writing in The Irish Times. He says himself that“I was the minister who negotiated the EU Water Framework Directive for Ireland. I opposed the compulsory imposition of water charges on Ireland”
Noel has since had a change of heart since he goes on“ We are now facing a situation where another generation will suffer inadequate infrastructure and unsafe water. A national utility is the only entity that can deliver the water system we deserve. Irish Water is the only game in town in relation to delivering quality water – primarily because so much investment has been put in place, with some significant achievements, that turning back now is neither cost-effective nor desirable.”
In his article in The Irish Times, Sat, March 26th'A new brass plate on the door is no guarantee anything useful will happen' Cliff cynically weaves into his piece yarns that any opposition to Irish Water is somehow abnormal.
He tells us“Having taken the initial cost and done the work, calls to abolish Irish Water are a reversal of the normal demand to create an agency to solve a problem.”
Cliff continues “ Now we are pretending that abolishing an institution can make a problem better. Someone needs to arrange to fix our water supply and waste water and abolishing Irish Water and setting up some other lesser quango doesn't seem a very clever solution – handing it all back to the local authorities seems an even worse idea.”
Clever writers with subjective opinions but they do not surpass the latest Irish Times article “Water charges irreversible in EU law, say lawyers” Irish Times, March 29th, 2016 by Arthur Beesley. (because of Irish Times subscription charges the article can not be read onlinebut can be readhere Fliuch Off Irish Water)
This article is not really an opinion piece but rather it is what only could be described as propaganda, straight from the horses mouth. Irish Water has now entered the fray, directly and unashamedly. They have brought out the big guns in the form of their legal representatives, Garrett Simons and Michael M Collins.
Mr Beesley writes
“Legal opinion commissioned by the utility company says the State is required under EU law to keep the contentious regime in place. There is no possibility under European law for the State to suspend or scrap water charges, legal advisers have told Irish Water. Amid a deep political schism over the charges,. a legal opinion commissioned by the utility company says the State is required under EU law to keep the contentious regime in place.
The advice – from senior counsel Garrett Simons and Michael M Collins – argues that there is no option under European law to return to the practice of not charging for water.”
“The views of Irish Water have not been sought in political talks. However, the company will say in any engagements with political leaders that it sees no legal way of reversing course.”
That line was clever, a bit of reverse psychology. While saying that their advise was never sought they continue to advise political leaders and in addition, warn them of some nasty legal repercussions. It is not for nothing that Irish Water spend a fortune on public relations. I suppose that line alone could have cost a few grand.