by James Quigley & Enda Craig
Our apology to Don McLean’s American Pie ‘The Day the Music Died’ for some in the anti Irish Water Movement was actually long, long ago.
It wasn’t last Thursday when Dáil Éireann voted 96 to 47 to accept a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil cobbled report from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Funding Domestic Water.
Nor was it the last 10 days of pretence negotiations between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that shook our world when one day we were told we had a victory, only to find out later that in fact we didn’t.
No, the day the music died for us can be traced back to when the movement was usurped by the parliamentary system and political agendas prior to and during last years inconclusive general election The water charges movement played second fiddle to political parties percentage points and organisations vying for power. This was further compounded by parties like Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil competing for the ‘republican’ and anti water charges vote. Also Sinn Féin and other left wing parties were also competing for the working class and anti water charges vote. Fianna Fáil although campaigning for abolition of water charges and Irish Water was not part of the Right2Water or later the Right2Change campaign as it had become. On the other hand Sinn Féin and some trade unions controlled the Right2Water organisation.
One of the major issues at the time for the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil right-wing rapprochement was how to deal with the inconclusive 2016 Irish election result and the gains made by the ‘left’ and ‘left of centre’ opposition TDs and parties that incidentally can be attributed to the massive public opposition to the previous Fine Gael/Labour government’s water charges policy and it’s forceful handling of that issue.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael knew that they had to come up with a plan to allow Fianna Fáil to somehow row back on recent election promises of abolishing Irish Water Ltd and Water Charges, promises, by the way, they both knew ran contrary to right-wing and EU neo-liberal policies. The establishment knows instinctively that such promises are part and parcel of the political parliamentary game and understand that Fianna Fáil had to make them in order to claw back 20 of the 51 seats lost in the 2011 general election. Fine Gael, on the other hand, had to somehow save what they could of it’s water policy fiasco.
So the two right-wing parties set about cleverly devising the ‘Expert Water Commission’ and the ‘Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water’ processes. These delaying tactics were all directed, managed and scripted by Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney with the tacit approval of Fianna Fáil.
But to our amazement the left and centre left deputies and prominent campaigners didn’t put up much of a fight and allowed the processes to continue for the next year and a half. Not only did they eventually even taking an active part in the setup.
No matter how significant the role that the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil right-wing pact played in the affair, we feel that that was a natural establishment reaction but what we believe much more sinister was the role play by some of the movements political supporters. In our view it was this political undercurrent and personal agendas that ripped the legs from under the anti water movement that in the end made it easier for FG/FF pact to plot it’s course. The wily Fianna fox in the chicken run is easier to spot that the chameleon slithering in our own ranks.
Final report neither comprehensible nor comprehensive
The Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil report that went through the Dáil last week, was in our view not definitive nor comprehensive. It will lead to further controversy and political wrangling. It is a bureaucratic quagmire that promotes inequality. It is vague, misleading and obtuse and it will allow the government or system of the day to tamper with the fine print and legislate accordingly. Presently the minister responsible for interpreting it and drawing up initial legislation is none other than Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney.
Perhaps we may get lucky again, like we did with the ExpertWater Commission but everything is pointing to the controversy continuing , with the status quo circling their wagons and tinkering with the small print.
Just what have we won or maybe the question is also much have we enabled? Note there was only two changes between the draft report the week previous and the final report.
The report copper-fastens Irish Water Ltd, the much hated and now entrenched quango. It will remain in place in it’s present form for the time being but could even subtly change in future.
The report mentions that ‘Domestic Water’ will be funded through taxation. However, this is not written in stone and is subject to EU legislation. There is nothing about ‘Domestic Waste Water’ or ‘Commercial Water’. Nothing about rivers, lakes or underground aquifers etc. It qualifies the funding mechanism by stating that in the future the utility must be adequately funded and guaranteed long term stability. We do not know what ‘if required’ Section 2.4 means and the entire section is only recommended.
There is a lot of ‘recommendation’ and not much specifics.
The report doesn’t mention anything about present funding methods of VAT and Motor tax.
Constitutional referendum. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. This might or might not happen and the report only ‘supports the concept’ one. The wording and time-frame are presently unknown. In the meantime or even if it happens, private public partnerships (another name for privatisation) will be running the show.
Water allowances, whether the 133 litres per day and whether it is going to be a household or personal average is still unclear. CER will have the responsibility who in turn base their averages on of Irish Water’s sliding scale of consumption figures. It turns out that Ireland has the lowest water consumption in all the OECD countries. So it seems we are going to get the lowest of the low water allowance. Even this allowance will, in the future, be subject to intense downward pressure, with costs veering upwards. It has all the hallmarks of a bureaucratic nightmare where households will struggle to keep within limits, fill in forms and apply with cap in hand for waivers.
Meters in new builds recommendation looks like a fig leaf. Along with millions of clandestine meters already installed and the recommended incentive of ‘grading scheme’, ‘retrofitting’, ‘strong building standard’ etc, it looks like the emphasis is on full meter coverage.
We are not looking forward to whatever draconian legislation Mr Coveney comes up with and it seems he has almost carte blanche to do what the State legal advises. Withe regard to legislation, no doubt he is aware of calls of whipping out unwanted meters.
There is no mention of who is actually responsible for installing or maintaining meters. There still remains a legal questions of ownership of boundary boxes and recognition of Irish Water
The report never mentions ‘Smart Meters’ or their possible health and privacy issues. Not a mention from the Green Party or any party for that matter even those Right2Water TDs. However, one would assume that a so called ‘environmental party’ would have some policy on said electronic devices. One obvious question arises about Smart meter, can people choose an analogue one instead?
There is no mention of how the report recommendations might affect conveyancing and prices of property.
There was absolutely nothing in the report about the RBMP (River Basin Management Plans) nor was it discussed in the Joint Water Committee. For those that don't know this is the building block of our whole water system. The RBMP was a direct result of the WFD (Water Framework Directive 2000). If you would like more info on it just search our 'Archives'. This is a serious flaw.
The Irish RBMP contains plans which ( also sent to the EU Commission) on how we intend to structure our water resources and its funding now and into the future. We are on our 'First Plan' now and are overdue on our 'Second' which has to be finalised by the end of this year.
This Oireachtas report does not mention Article 9.4 or the WFD Directive. Somehow our politicians even those R2W ones seem to have given up on the vital exemption clause, one of the most important defenses against EU diktats. This 9.4 Section shouldbe emphasised and inserted into any water policy including the RBMP. * (edited18/3/17)
One of the most significant clauses in the report is Section 4.5. It was a clause that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil haggled over for two weeks and eventually agreed on ‘Levies’. We will have to pay close attention to how Mr Coveney interprets this section because the report seems to throw the kitchen sink at it, unsure about ‘wastage’, ‘excess use’ and ‘willful abuse’. After reading this section over and over we defy anyone to explain it’s actual meaning.
Since those inspiring days of mass protests and hope of change it seems we are back to the usual Irish corrupt ‘politics as usual’ system. They know best, they have the clout and experience of the parliamentary beast. Backroom dealing and party whipping are the order of the day. But it even more depressing when the movement our own crowd follow suit imitating the big boys and directing opposition to suit their agenda. There is no such thing as humble pie or sincerity. Alternative politicians and unions are falling over each other claiming victory with a patronising nod to the innocent campaigners around the country. You think that’s cynical, well, it gets worse. There is a dearth of humbleness and frankness but lorry loads of intimidation and outright condemnation of any criticism.
Unfortunately we have few answers, only regret and sorrow. Our observations and experiences tell us that anyone supping at the parliamentary trough or positions of power tend to get sucked into the very system they are supposed to be fighting. Everything tells us that the system is unreformable and we are fast coming to the conclusion that what is needed is a revolution in mind and politics.
"From above the tumult of cowards, the mediocre and the poor of spirit, it is necessary to pass a brief but courageous and constructive judgement. Whoever believes that up to now everything has been done well, that we have nothing to reproach ourselves for, is a man who demands little from his conscience." Dayan Jayatelleka 'FIDEL'S Ethics of Violence'