Spin and how you might tell it

Has the Irish Water story reached a peak and is it going to go away any time soon?

After all, less than two weeks ago, ministers and others were finding it difficult to express confidence in the chief executive of the semi-state company. Since then, senior ministers, starting with Dear Enda, seem to have done a serious backflip and now appear to have full confidence in him again. Ultimately, it’s all down to Fine Gael and its rush to get this political dynamite out of the way before serious electioneering starts for early 2016.

Unfortunately unless Government, through those it has commissioned to address the problems in Irish Water, finds a ‘get out of jail card’, the writing is on the wall and that wall suggests that Fine Gael and Labour are going to have a torrid time whenever the next election comes along— in less than 18 months.

We could be wrong but this weekend, assuming that the crowds do come out and show their outright disagreement with Irish Water and all its words, the coalition parties will see the mountain that it has to climb to persuade people to give them a second chance.

Getting a message out there that is clear, that is understandable, and that will be accepted by those who must observe its terms is a difficult job at the best of times. From the very start, the overall message from Irish Water — that we were going to be parted with yet more money — was always going to be a very hard sell. After all, nobody wants to pay more money, particularly when we are already of the view that water is paid for out of general taxation.

We had just been gouged for the last seven years. People at the other end of the food chain have not suffered as much. The powers that be should not have been surprised that they had ignited a powder keg that was primed to explode. Maybe they thought that if the universal social charge didn’t wind us up nothing would.

Given the supposed calibre of the many senior-level folk shoe-horned into the top jobs in Irish Water, we could be forgiven for thinking that since we were paying highly for those supposed highly experienced folk that we would at least be treated as if we had some cop on. Unfortunately, we were treated as if we’d all come down in the last shower and didn’t even understand the English language.

This all brings me to an article in the Sunday Business Post written by Pat Rabbite, former cabinet member and Labour Party leader. The article was entitled ‘time to pour cold water on the rumours’ and he did a good job in simplifying something that others, probably better paid, have made a pig’s ear of.

In less than 800 words, the article set out the Irish Water position, its raison d’être, and what it was trying to do — or should I say, he gave us his version of it. It goes to prove that spin is all about how you tell it. It was reasonable and rational, not one to generate excitement. Sure one could pick holes, even lots of holes in it, but as I said it was his version and he is, after all, still a Labour TD.

The more messages we got from Irish Water the more confused and the angrier we became. The lack of preparedness that was clear in everything that Irish Water did or said, undermined any rationale that might have been accepted for paying its employees as much as they do. The fact that folk would have to pay for water, even if that water was not potable, beggared belief.

The fact the free allowances for children that Government had committed to were dramatically reduced without any real or acceptable substantiation annoyed us even further. Demanding PPS numbers without any clear rationale made us wonder what they were up to. The issue on the bonuses was simply the last straw.

As Mr Rabbite said in his article, people “are entitled to certainty and clarity and it is the duty of Government to ensure that they get it”. It couldn’t be clearer. Now it’s up to Alan Kelly, the environment minister, who will decide if this is another Fine Gael one-time government.

While he is at it he needs to make Irish Water accountable to FoI and to consumer oversight. Last but not least he must make it clear in legislation that control of Ireland’s water can never be sold off or otherwise privatised in any way.

Paul Mills


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