Kathy Sheridan: Water crisis and Brexit mess show we are still living in 1977
New census questions inspire reflection on what a reader from the past might want to know
Have you given any thought at all to the message you will be permitted to leave to the generations of 2121 on your next census form? Will it have the vibe of a late-night radio rant or the calming balance of an Obama UN address – eg bad things are happening but war is down and life expectancy is up, science has beaten back infectious diseases and a girl in a remote village can download the totality of human knowledge on a smartphone?
Sad and futile though it may be, my message to Ms 2121 would be heavy on curiosity. For instance, I will ask, did Field-Marshal Sixtus Rees-Mogg end up running Dambusters, the second World War theme park once known as England?
The answers from Ms 2121 may just be updates on familiar themes. On Monday, The Irish Times front page looked like updates to questions left in a time capsule by Mr 1977. Are the health boards doing the job, he might have asked? How did the abolition of domestic water charges work out? Is emigration still a nightmare? Are the Brits still whinging about the EEC?
So Mr 1977, here is your update in the form of Monday’s headlines: Regional healthcare to return in restructure of HSE; Dublin faces more water shortages as population grows; Undocumented Irish on high alert in US; and UK hopes for fresh Brexit deal suffer blow.
What’s the HSE? Oh yes, all the health boards were wrapped into the Health Service Executive but may now be broken into health boards again (the story is long, complex and often outrageous). On the water front, remember how you lapped up the abolition of water rates and car tax in the Fianna Fáil landslide election of 1977? Well, that left us with no water charges to this day (apart from a riotous interlude but it’s a long story, again) and a real crock of a water infrastructure. But the car tax was reinstated, oddly.
As for emigrants, life for undocumented people everywhere is a horror show. We have our own immigrants now, Mr 1977, and they’ve been “managed well” while “there is, of course, always space for improvement”, according to Filippo Grandi, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But the leader of the free world – a vindictive, foul-mouthed racist who has averaged 12 misleading or outright false statements for every day of his presidency (the Washington Post keeps count) – likes nothing more than stoking up hatred and fear of minorities, often on a communication platform called Twitter.
A few days ago, he told four congresswomen – none of them white – to go back to the sh*tholes they came from although three of them were born in the US. Reporter: “Does it concern you that many people find that tweet racist?” Leader of the free world: “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.” His argument, you will note, is not that the tweet is not racist but that many racists agree with him. It may win him re-election.
As for Brexit . . . oh Lord. As you know, the British have been wailing about Brussels since Ted Heath took them into the EEC without a vote in 1973 – a year when Britain was still known as the “sick man of Europe” and the IRA exploded numerous bombs on English targets – so you may be curious about whether they buckled down.
For decades, people have been firing off letters to the editor about 'ritual' water shortages
A year after they joined, a Gallup poll found that two-thirds of those surveyed felt it was the wrong decision. A year after that, the new prime minister Harold Wilson promised to renegotiate Britain’s membership terms followed by a referendum. That duly happened and well over two-thirds of them voted to remain. Then four years later, nearly two-thirds of them told Gallup that they would vote to leave given another referendum. Are you still with me?
And so it continued across the decades, through endless sniping about opt-outs, rebates and the loss of ancient British liberties. So no change there. They voted to leave in 2016 but overlooked a few awkward little things such as the North and Scotland and the value of the EU free market a handy few miles away. To be continued.
Arguably, of all Monday’s headlines, the water story is the most exasperating only because it was the one most easily remedied. For decades, people have been firing off letters to the editor about “ritual” water shortages. It’s 22 years since Brendan Howlin was “startled” to read in a report that almost half the daily supply of treated water in the greater Dublin area was lost through leakage.
In June, several public beaches closed due to discharges from wastewater plants. Kevin O’Sullivan’s eye-opening series on the problem reminds us that half the money raised from the proposed water charges – reinstated in 2015, then scrapped, don’t ask – was to have gone towards sewage treatment. Now Irish Water has to queue for funding with other agencies. Instead of exerting every sinew and cent on the leaking pipes, the current plan is to spend the price of a world-class children’s hospital piping water 170km from the Shannon to a massively expanding Dublin and environs.
Another report is in train.
Dear Ms 2121, did they ever fix the pipes?