Fianna Fáil accused of ‘shafting state’ by opposing water charges
Green Party leader tells MacGill Summer School militant left exploited water issue
“If you are a Trotskyist revolutionary this issue is brilliant,” Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the MacGill Summer School
Fianna Fail “shafted the state” by refusing to agree to water charges, speakers at the MacGill Summer School said on Monday night.
Eamon Ryan, the leader of the Green Party, and management consultant Dr Eddie Molloy both used the same phrase about Irish Water being “shafted” by Fianna Fáil during a debate on what lessons could be learned from the political and community tumult triggered by the water charges controversy.
Mr Ryan said that the militant left exploited the issue of water charges to advance its political agenda just as it counterpart in Britain during the 1989-1990 exploited the poll tax issue to help topple Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. “If you are a Trotskyist revolutionary this issue is brilliant,” he said.
But he was particularly critical of Fianna Fáil which, he said, effectively accepted the need for water charges in 2009. “There was not a peep out of Fianna Fáil, they realised it made sense,” he said.
Looking at the numbers in the Dáil, Mr Ryan said whether water charges would be accepted in the future – should the special commission on water charges so recommend – would hinge on what Fianna Fáil would decide. The indications were that the party again would oppose such charges as it had in recent years, even if the commission proposed such a levy, he predicted.
“My sense of what happened in Fianna Fáil is that rather than the centre holding at a critical time it shafted the state by actually saying no,” said Mr Ryan.
Dr Molloy referred to the “politicisation of Irish Water” and the “triumph of populism over reason and the public interest”. He referred to “inflammatory rhetoric” from the opponents of water charges which was “supercharged by the reach of social media” with, in one case, those who were installing water meters being compared to the Black and Tans.
Dr Molloy said that it was essential that water services were improved such was the disastrous state of the system.
While critical of parties such as Sinn Féin and other anti-water charges campaigners who had “misled” the public, he was scathing of Fianna Fáil – accusing the party of having “shafted Irish Water at a time when a statesmanlike stand was important”.
“They shafted the whole project at a time when something else was needed,” he said. There was no one on the panel representing anti-water charges campaigners.
Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan said that the introduction of water charges “breached a central, and almost universal rule of politics namely: thou shall not charge people for a service which they have previously obtained for free.
“You can ask a people to pay for optional add-ons, or for premium content but you cannot ask them to pay for that which is merely as good as – or still as bad as – it was before you introduced the charge without considerable blowback,” he said.
Whelan said while the issue of Irish Water has been passed on to an independent commission of international experts the matter was far from resolved. “It is impossible to see how such a group of international expertise could do anything other than recommend household charging for water,” he said.
“Water charges may have been suspended but the potential for the controversy about water charges to cause political eruptions, and to further undermine trust in our politics, has not gone away.”
Psychologist and writer Dr Maureen Gaffney cited studies by behavioural economists to argue that those who paid their water charges were unlikely to “passively accept being treated unfairly”.
She referred to the estimate that more than 60 per cent of people have paid their charges and how they would be unlikely to accept those who had not paid getting off without some sort of sanction. “Unfairness rankles very deeply with people, nobody wants to be a sucker,” said Dr Gaffney.