The Wexford TD took over as leader from Joan Burton after the party's electoral defeat in the 2016 general election
By James Ward, Jan 4 2017
Irish Water is the Labour’s biggest regret from their time in Government party leader Brendan Howlin has revealed.
He now admits “we just should have said no” to the plan to set up the hated utility which has stumbled from one crisis to the next.
Mr Howlin is currently undertaking one of the largest rebuilding jobs in Labour history, having lost 30 seats in the 2016 election to leave them with just seven TDs.
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Mirror, Mr Howlin has admitted that the issue would have been handled completely differently, were it not for the pressure being put on Government by the Troika.
He said: “We were under the cosh to build a huge utility like Irish Water. To get a national metering programme in place and charge for water in the space of three years, which we just should have said no to. I’m sorry we didn’t.
“Within Government, we certainly had that battle with Fine Gael. At a critical point, the decision we made was to stick with it as opposed to pulling down the Government at that stage.
“Because we were afraid of the consequences for our country if we pulled the Government down. But we paid too high a price for that and we should certainly have stood our ground in relation to Irish Water.”
This marks a significant turnaround for Labour, who repeatedly condemned the anti-water charges movement while in power.
Now Mr Howlin has admitted that the introduction of charges should have been handled much differently, and says they would have been had the Troika not been breathing down their necks.
Asked if introducing charges was the right thing to do, he replied: “No, not at the time. Not the way it was done.
“It think a much longer term approach should have been taken, and would have been taken had we not been under the cosh of the Troika.
“It was one of the things that Fianna Fail had committed in the Troika deal in 2010.
“It was one of the things that, every month, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF were insisting ‘where is your progress on this list of things?’
“This was one of the things we had to make progress on. Because they were signing off monthly on the paycheck for the nation, in order for us to pay pensions and pay the cost of wages and so on.
“Under normal circumstances, that should have been a ten year project. I certainly think it was handled badly.”
Labour has struggled badly since leaving office sitting at just 6% in the latest polls.
The savage austerity cuts of the last Government, and in particular, the introduction of water charges are seen as the main reasons for Labour’s demise.
Source: Irish Mirror, Jan 4 2017