The price of populism

The propensity of those in power to pander to short term political gain has cost this State dearly

The decision of the European Commission to take Ireland to the European Court of Justice over the State’s failure to develop a proper waste water treatment system is another indictment of what is wrong with our political system.

Successive governments have failed to meet deadlines for improvements in the sewage treatment system laid down by the European Commission going back as far as 2000. There are 38 towns and cities in Ireland where human health is being put at risk by the discharge of sewage into estuaries, lakes and rivers. The Commission has finally lost patience with Ireland’s failure to deal with the matter despite repeated warnings. The Government may be able to escape substantial fines if action is taken over the next 18 months to deal with the issue but that will require the investment of €443 million in waste water treatment.

The propensity of those in power to pander to short term political gain has cost this State dearly over the years. The sorry saga of water is probably the most outstanding example. As far back as the 1990s, the government of the day resisted EU pressure to begin installing water metres in new houses as the first step towards a comprehensive national water conservation programme. Two decades later the consequences of that procrastination are still with us and serious EU fines for the latest failure to develop a coherent water strategy are looming in the years ahead.

The latest manifestation of short term political gain coming ahead of the national interest is the approach of the big parties to the North-South electricity interconnector. In an effort to capitalise on local concerns Fianna Fáil has tabled a Dáil motion calling for an independent report to examine the feasibility of putting the cables underground even though an independent report has already come out against this on cost grounds. Fine Gael is behaving equally cynically on the issue with Government chief whip Regina Doherty threatening to resign if the project goes ahead as currently planned. The attitude of both parties threatens power cuts in the North and bigger bills for consumers on both sides of the border.