Lynn Boylan, Sinn Fein MEP, on 'Tonight With Vincent Browne' , March 29th, 2016, got into deep waters trying to explain Ireland's water derogation in Article 9 of the EU Water Framework Directive.
Incidentally it really boils down to two words in clause 4 of that article, 'Established Practice'. For a explanation of this Directive see 'Michael Noonan 'Water Charges Required Under European Law' is a Lie'.
Ms Boylan lost an opportunity to dwell on what should be a major controversy in Ireland, involving threats from Irish Water Ltd's solicitors . She said
"their remit is to manage Irish Water so why are they commissioning legal opinion in order to have an argument for their self preservation. Was tax payer's money spent on this legal opinion and how much did they spend. Those questions need to be answered".
She should have insisted that this issue be discussed and brought other panel members into the debate. It is a major substantial issue, one which could easily have taken up the entire programme and one no doubt we all want an answer to. Paul Murphy, Anti Austerity Alliance understood this importance when, earlier in the week, he brought the controversy up and sent a formal letter to Irish Water and the media requesting an answer.
Unfortunately, Ms Boylan's questions were sidelined. In what seemed to be an prearranged schedule, she went on to give her opinion on the so-called 'Irish Derogation' in the EU Framework Directive, a complicated EU bureaucratic legal document. Ms Boylan had a piece of evidence to hand which she read out verbatim. From her demeanour she looked like she believed that this scoop was a coup de grace. The evidence concerned Scotland's water provision model and their interpretation of the EU Directive.
In retrospect she should not have complicated her first point. She opened the door for the presenter to pin her into a corner where she had to explain how people inScotland pay for their water, i.e. Council Tax. Ms Boylan then went on to bring Northern Ireland'swater model into the conversation. Northern Ireland of course pay individually for their water through Corporation Tax.
The statement was really Lynn Boylan's opinion, her interpretation of the EU Directive, nothing more. Possibly her standing as an MEP gave it credibility but the Noonan article above mentions the opinions of two other MEPs. The fact is we can all have opinions even Irish Water's solicitors (as long as we do not spend other people's money on it).
When all is said and done our derogation exist with the words 'Established Practice' in there. The next government should apply this derogation, irrespective of what Irish Water or Mr Noonan says. It will then be up to the European Commission to take it to the European Court if they think we are wrong. Although not part of the above Vincent Browne video clip, one of the panelists, Mr Sean Fleming, Fianna Fail, understood the point when he said that the present set up of water charges, as put in place by the former Fine Gael/Labour government, is not an 'established practice'.
Far from Lynn Boylan's statement, being a "nail in Irish Water's coffin", as has been described on social media, it was another episode of Sinn Fein complicating the issue for other anti water charge campaigners. Sinn Fein have been doing things their own way ever since the campaign started.
Gerry Adams and other party members were in favour of water charges at the start. Next they did not support a boycott. Sinn Fein controlled Right2Change and came out with a unilateral election pact and orchestrated the expulsion of the Anti Austerity Alliance. In 2015 Lynn Boylan was embroiled in a controversy 'Sinn Fein backed water charges in European Parliament'. One of the most bewildering Sinn Fein's statement was the one by Eoin O'Broin, March 13th, 2016, where he called for an independent commission on Irish Water to be set up and that Sinn Fein would accept the outcome, RTE This Week March 13th 'Sinn Fein Change of Position on Irish Water'. Lynn Boylan recently dropped another bombshell, 9th March, which has never been adequately explained"Irish Water charges plan must be withdrawn before March 22nd deadline".
Getting into a tizzy on EU bureaucracy ?
At the outset we have to ask the question why a Sinn Fein MEP is only now bringing up the question of such an important EU Directive? Why has Sinn Fein's MEPs not been on top of this from the start and why have they not shared it with the Irish anti water charges' movement?
One of the reasons that the little derogation clause has sent politicians into a tizzy lately is because of a leaked threat from Irish Water Ltd's solicitors which appeared in The Irish Times, 29th March 2016; 'Water Charges irreversible in EU Law says Lawyers'.
Another reason occurred three weeks ago when Michael Noonan, aformer Fine Gael Finance Minister, issued a broadside to Fianna Fail; 'Michael Noonan 'Water Charges Required Under European Law' is a Lie'. Here Mr Noonan was using the EU Directive as a bargaining ploy in Fine Gael's negotiations with Fianna Fail and other parties trying to form a government.
These two revelations coming one after the other are very similar. One would think that there may be a connection, designed to put pressure on the political discussions taking place at present on forming the next government. The threats have come out about three weeks after the Irish General Election, the result of which was a stalemate where no party got a majority. The formation of the next government is up for grabs. Both Fine Gael's and Irish Water's futures are at stake.
Original TV3 programme: Tonight With Vincent Browne