No 'big bad wolf' of water privatisation, insists Labour


DÁIL SKETCH:IS SHE A “Government within a Government” or even “a party within a party”. Does the Tánaiste have “particular difficulties with her”, asked Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. He was referring to the formidable Labour Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, who has garnered a reputation for “solo runs”.

Her latest challenge to her Cabinet colleagues was on the Social Welfare Bill, which she introduced in the Dáil late on Wednesday night. The Minister said she would abandon the hugely controversial proposal to cut off the lone-parent allowance once a child reaches seven if the Cabinet did not give her a “credible and bankable” commitment for adequate childcare provisions in the next budget.

“Hypocrisy,” raged the Fianna Fáil leader, who said the Government was “trying to have it both ways”. This, he said, “is a classic example of the Labour Party wrestling with its conscience. But the Labour Party always wins.”

A belated acknowledgement that seven is far too young for cutting off the lone-parent payment, said Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

But whatever the discussion might be in private, there was no criticism of his Cabinet colleague when the Tánaiste replied, repeatedly stressing the Minister was reforming the social welfare system, “something that has been long overdue” and neglected when Fianna Fáil was in government.

Then it was the turn of Richard Boyd Barrett in his first turn as the technical group’s representative at Leaders’ Questions. Mocking cheers from the Government benches when he stood to speak, referring to the water charges, water metering and, he believed, the inevitability of the privatisation of the water authority.

The cheers quickly turned to jeers and some bitter personal exchanges when the Dún Laoghaire TD gave a wide-ranging and lengthy address.

Calling on the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to “quell the mob”, he cited specific treaty regulations that he said would mean normal competition and State aid rules would apply to any revenue-generating tax. This would result in privatisation.

Don’t be looking for a “big bad wolf” where they don’t exist, said the Tánaiste. Recalling his party conference in Galway and the violence at the protest outside the venue by some demonstrators, Mr Gilmore noted his Dún Laoghaire constituency colleague’s use of the word “dissociate”.

The Tánaiste asked him if he “dissociates himself” from the attacks on gardaí at the protest. The People Before Profit TD was at the protest. Mr Gilmore said “that’s something he could dissociate himself – he’s hasn’t yet done so – from the violent scenes in Galway last weekend.”

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte then rowed in: “Just because you’ve a double-barrelled name doesn’t mean you can ask two questions,” he quipped to raucous laughter across the House.

Warning the People Before Profit TD not to cry wolf or even see a big bad wolf where they don’t exist, Mr Gilmore insisted there would be no privatisation of water services. It would be a semi-State authority.