Water crisis - Pragmatism must replace delusion

LIKE many instructive nuggets that give figures primacy over stories, the one about where adaptability and stubbornness meet — “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” — is attributed to several fathers. The economist John Maynard Keynes is generally, but not always, regarded as its source. It is a neat summation of the inevitable dilemma when a Titanic of opinion meets the iceberg of reality. The outcome is inevitable and the down-to-brass-tacks questions include how long will it be before the ship sinks and how many unfortunate passengers will be lost in the icy seas.

Mr Keynes’ acceptance that circumstances change, especially if decisions are made in anger, may inform an Irish optimism that dare not speak its name — the hope that Brexit might not proceed. As Britain struggles to define its intentions, we, in our heart of hearts, hope that particular Titanic changes course before it crashes into the looming

, immoveable iceberg.

That may be wishful thinking but it is still hard to dismiss the hope that sanity might prevail, that a second referendum might be held, and, after a change of heart, all the talk about borders be confined to gardening columns in this island’s newspapers. It is unfortunate that the bulldog spirit, so admirable during the tragedy that made European unity an imperative, seems to make that redemption unlikely.

Were he alive, Mr Keynes would surely remind us that we can be as stubborn as any Brexiteer and, to our unquestionable cost, ignore undeniable evidence that should make any sensible person reconsider if not change

their position.

That authorities have issued a warning that water supplies, a taken-for-granted staple of our lives which is taken for granted, will be affected for weeks, if not months, by last week’s snowstorms must mean reality has to overturn the “no way, we won’t pay” delusion that scuppered the introduction of water charges. The current warnings are but a foretaste of what lies ahead if the sieve we call a water system is not rebuilt quickly before it, as it seems set to,

fails completely.

That argument is strengthened by the fact that the politicians who opposed water charges cannot offer even the vaguest solution to this new crisis, one brought about by years of slapdash national housekeeping. The crisis underlines Fianna Fáil’s shameless opportunism just as it points to the last government’s abnegation of their responsibility of the great majority of citizens who, through gritted teeth, recognised that water security is not a cost-free entitlement.

Yesterday’s announcement that the Government will fund the “exceptional and unbudgeted” snow storm costs incurred by local authorities is welcome, but it highlights the precarious nature of councils’ finances and a pork barrel political paternalism inappropriate and irresponsible in a developed society. Our reluctance to accept, and governments’ refusal to take, hard decisions is at the root of today’s water crisis, not the snows of last week. This can cannot be kicked down the road again and the Government, if it is to be worthy of the name, must reopen the water charges project. That Keynesian pragmatism would enjoy far more support than it might be imagined as the alternative is untenable.

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