When you find yourself stranded on an island, it is water that defines the rock you will perish on…
Since the very initial murmurs of water charges coming back to the Republic of Ireland, back in 2009 when ‘the people’ were still suffering from Fianna Fail can do no wrong syndrome, there was inevitable unrest awaiting to bubble to the surface of society as soon as a bill became law. The history of conflict over water charges in the Republic is a decorated past with public authority twice defeating the government desire to put in place, a sustainable plan for the country’s must urgent utility. Both times the charges were defeated, it was Fianna Fail election promises or the party actually taking the helm from Fine Gael that resulted in bills pushed through to abolish the charge, bowing to public pressure.
The 1977 Fianna Fail election manifesto, under which rates were first defeated, is widely accepted as a blueprint for the economic collapse in 80’s Ireland. Again in 1997, having put significant pressure on the Rainbow Coalition to attempt to curry last minute public favour on the cusp of the election, Fianna Fail economic strategies set the country up for yet another fall following the telecoms collapse of the late 90’s and signs of early stress in the first few years of the new millennium – the rest is indigestible, repulsive policies that safeguarded the ordinary citizen in no way whatsoever.
Before sacrificing power in 2011, the multiple Fianna Fail-led governments had floated the idea of reform in the water domain. A defeated bill by Martin Cullen in 2003 was the first glimmer of such change and subsequently, changes to legislation in 2007, 2009, and 2010 paved the way for inevitable water charges. Fine Gael duly took a coalition victory with Labour in 2011 following the short-lived ostracising of Bertie and the explosion of the sacrificial piñata that was Brian Cowen; they implemented the plans already set forth, under increased pressure to replenish government coffers and the country erupted, in unison, against this brand new concept.
People love to attribute the pen-stroke of Phil Hogan that gave birth to Irish Water as being the inception of all water charge related evil. In reality the signature gave a name to the face at the back of the room whom everyone had chosen to ignore for 11 years previous. For some reason the public have always been more vocal when Fianna Fail are not at the wheel; I’ve never fully understood that. Yes, they appear to be the historical saviours of those against water rates. They had the Charlie McCreevy “if I have it, I’ll spend it” wonder that lined everyone’s pockets and of course Bertie, wasn’t he wonderful on Gift Grub? The reality however, is that each defeat of water charges was an election stunt to give stay of execution until more robust legislation could be drafted for others to enact. McCreevy never had the money he spent and Bertie, well, it’s just a pity he wasn’t only a character on Gift Grub.
Fine Gael on the other hand, who will ever forget about children’s shoes? Now our children need water; water is the new shoes. Despicable, unforgivable, disgusting behaviour that somewhat captures the essence of those who choose to find their voices and denigrate the party. Each time in power following economic collapse; desperate times call for desperate measures but each time upon leaving power, a balanced chequebook and currently, a faster economic return than even the oppressive overlords at the ECB and IMF had predicted. Oh Lord, how we have suffered for the spoils but then again we partied hard on fragile ice for over a decade leading up to it.
One has to believe that with the raft of public disapproval and continued groundswell and resilient protest that has not been seen in living memory, the current government is not long for this world. It’s hard to conceive that barring an unprecedented u-turn that winds down Irish Water, coupled with already frayed coalition ties and bitter sniping and ex-ministerial admission of error, that the Summer recess of 2015 will happen without plans for an early general election. Despite years of austerity, plans conceived and legislated for during the life of a previous government that crippled the country and gave rise to the current affairs, billions repaid of misspent monies and a healthy return to economic growth for the country, it is water, our most abundant (albeit largely not potable) resource that defines the rock on which Fine Gael will yet again perish.