by Enda Craig
On Thursday evening, when the dust settles, after two full days of ' fake arguments' in the Dáil we will not be one centimeter closer to saving our 9.4 Irish Domestic Water Exemption. Why? Well because it’s like trying to close the gate after the horse has bolted. It’s merely a distraction, just playing to the gallery and the media or another way to look at it ‘electioneering’. The time for the R2W politicians to take a stand is long past.
For instance, I could go back to February 2016 when after the General Election there was an great opportunity to take a stand and refuse to accept any move to diffuse the momentum of the anti water charges movement. Instead the so called R2W politicians accepted and even encouraged the establishment of a so called Independent Water Commission and an Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water. One hundred years after the 1916 Irish Rising the leadership could have once again taken a stand but instead they took part in the establishment's subterfuge.
After the 2016 General Election a Fine Gael and Fíanna Fáil'Programme for Government' was devised and agreed. This was clearly set up to counteract the mass opposition to Water Charges and take the wind out of the sail of the successful campaign. The tactic was devised not only as a result of the General Election where the result was directly influenced by the mass opposition to water charges but also it was necessary because of the the European Commission’s Eurostat's classification of Irish Water in July 2015 the previous year. The Eurostat decision not to allow Irish Water to go off the State's books must have shocked the establishment. Again this came about through the national anti water charges' movement and their refusal to accept Irish Water and pay water charges. No doubt Fine Gael needed to save face and devise a different approach one that might take longer but one that will ultimately get them what they wanted. Thus was born 'the 'charging for excessive use' approach presented to them on a plate by Sinn Féin in their R2W European Citizen Initiative in 2015. The Programme for Government including the suspension of charges, the Independent Expert Committee and the Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water was also in line with that presented by Fíanna Fáil’s Barry McGowan at the McGill Summer School in Donegal in the Summer of 2015 (https://www.fiannafail.ie/10094/ ) where he said
″Fianna Fáil maintains its call for the immediate suspension of charges. Domestic charges should only be introduced when the national infrastructure is brought up to standard.″
After the general election the R2W TDs should have run a mile from such an establishment plan. However, they ran the other way, straight into its arms, not only taking part, but in my view they aided and abetted the Government tactic for their own political ends.
We have now witnessed this agenda coming to fruition as the ‘ongoing opposition to water charges' where the establishment left, particularly Sinn Féin and Solidarity and People Before Profit can now dine out on it for the foreseeable future sniping at the heels of Fíanna Fáil. Even the R2W Union leadership are in on this politically lucrative ‘permanent opposition to water charges’ act. The old adage ‘never trust a politician’ comes to mind or as Richard Armour said
″Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong. ″
However, it is the more recent Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water, who eventually delivered it’s controversial report last April over a year since the General Election that shows up the duplicity of it’s members including the R2W TDs. The Committee was nothing short of playing to the grandstand where it’s members including the five R2W TDs were clearly basking in the limelight in the public sessions but in it’s 21 private sessions it was an altogether another affair. This duplicitous grandstanding was clearly demonstrated by the lack of any mention of the Ireland’s 9.4 Exemption or indeed any mention of the full day session of February 15th. Anyone genuinely supporting the mass movement would have been up in arms at this omission and clearly the February 15th session showed that they all knew how important the question of Ireland's 9.4 or 'Established Practice' was.
Judicial Review, show by actions and not words
I asked a legal friend of mine for his opinion about the exclusion of the 9.4 Exemption and the February 15th session from both the ‘Confidential Final Draft Report’ or the ‘Final Report’ of the Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water Charges. He advised that a Judicial Review against the Government for the non-inclusion is indeed very possible. The fact that ' Established Practice and the 9.4 Exemption ' was given one full day of debate, including submissions of two Senior Counsel, establishes that this sector of discussion as " Material Information " and by normal legal right should have been included in the reports.
If any of the R2W TDs or R2W Union bosses had the slightest interest in retaining the 9.4 Exemption they could have and should have instigated a Judicial Review back in April 2016 to save the 9.4 Exemption and have it inserted in the Committee's report as of right.
No one would know this better than Deputies Eoin Ó Broin and Paul Murphy with their extensive legal knowledge. Instead they have been encouraging ' meaningless ' River Basin Management Plan submissions and proclaiming their bona fide anti water charges credentials in the Dáil.
Maybe I could suggest to them that an opportunity still is available until October 6th to save the 9.4 Exemption when the Statute of Limitations runs out on a Judicial Review.