Nobody willing to take blame for Water shambles

With conservation metering off the agenda this decade and those who didn’t pay for water probably receiving €100 for the privilege, the credibility of those we have put in charge of the country has taken another hit, writes Shaun Connolly

Nobody willing to take blame for Water shambles

CREDIBILITY was the name of the political game, but this being Ireland it was the lack of such that dominated.

Ex-Anglo director Fintan Drury summed up the situation best when he insisted at the banking inquiry that Brian Cowen attended a dinner at Anglo HQ after its share plunge in 2008, and then had a lovely little golf outing to Druids Glen with the Anglo boys when Taoiseach three months later, but the subject of Anglo, or indeed banking at all, was never even whispered.

“I have friends who find it lacking in credibility,” Mr Drury told the Oireachtas probe.

This is the same banking probe which has already made some sort of history by proving that in Ireland, at least, you can have an ongoing inquiry with a separate inquiry into that inquiry at the same time.

The banking investigation has achieved notoriety as the only entity in the country with more leaks than the Irish Water delivery system.

And while we are on the subject, and in full knowledge that this is not a very popular thing to say — Irish people should pay for water.

Every other western European country does, so why are we different?

Obviously, it would not be under the farcical structure of Irish Water which was made even more ludicrous by the panic-induced changes thrown together to clear up the monumental mess left by Phil Hogan, who was duly rewarded by Enda Kenny for the chaos he left at home by being put in charge of the EU’s agriculture €60bn.

Ah, but people say, we already pay for water through general taxation, so why should we have to pay twice?

Well, actually, you don’t, because the money needed for the maintenance and repair of a dilapidated system that losses 50% of its water through leaks –while the Dublin conurbation where a third of the country lives is perilously close to full capacity – is siphoned off elsewhere.

Though ministers do themselves no favours when they try to make a comparison with the roads, saying people pay for those twice via taxes and then tolls.

Again, we don’t, because this Government has hit on the wheeze of taking some €600m from motor tax receipts, not to make driving easier in this country, but — of course — to fund the lavish consultancy fees and bonus culture at Irish Water.

And then they act surprised when the EU turns around and says they lack credibility? The very idea!

The overwhelming case for charging is environmental, only a system of meter-based payments, with genuine safeguards for those on low incomes, will make us think twice about turning the taps off when water is not needed.

We now have a situation where all the bribes, sorry “conservation grants”, pumped in desperation at the people who actually bothered to register, has led to the introduction of a tax that will actually lose the State money.

The Government cut the mental health budget by €15m last year, which is roughly the amount it will lose on the Irish Water fiasco this year when all the grants, interest payments on unused meters, and mass boycotts are taken into account.

In a repeat of the arrogant incompetence that assured us Irish water would sail through the Eurostat test and qualify for all that off-balance sheet borrowing, ministers like Leo Varadkar are now insisting it’s just a matter of time until Europe sees sense when more people stump up.

But why would anyone now pay? Irish Water will be sunk at the general election, and everyone can still claim the 100 quid “conservation” bung the Government paid them as a reward for not paying. Brilliant.

Unfortunately, the upshot is that conservation metering is off the agenda for at least a decade now.

But we can always rely on the dear old Greens to save the environmental day, can’t we?

Well, no, not if former Green leader John Gormley’s bleatings to the banking inquiry are anything to go by.

In what seemed like a moment of reality, Mr Gormley said: “I think a narrative has evolved around the bank guarantee which goes something like this: 1) The bank guarantee was the worst decision ever made in this country and all our woes stem from it, 2) that Fianna Fáil was up to something shady with Anglo, and 3) the Greens did not know what the hell was going on.” Well said Mr Gormley! Oh, but then he went and added there was no evidence for any of those three things.

It would be unfair to say Mr Gormley was asleep at the wheel on the night of the guarantee just because he chose to stay in bed when the decision was being made at Government Buildings.

But this would be unfair on Fianna Fail as they always made sure the Greens never got anywhere near the steering wheel of Government, indeed, Gormley and Co considered themselves lucky if they even got to sit on the back seat of the car like silent and chastised, naughty children.

Indeed, Gormley’s evidence to the inquiry reminded us of our favourite joke from the last government: ” What do Fianna Fail’s junior coalition partners and a caterpillar have in common?” Answer: “They are both Green and spineless.”

Former PD tanaiste and thrusting Thatcherite Mary Harney sat beside Gormley at the probe and went through the motions of regrets, and the “we didn’t see it comings”, that Unbelievable Bertie and Calamity Cowen had done before.

Ms Harney — as you and your political buddies Bertie and Brian got things so spectacularly wrong, could we have the massive pensions we give you back please?

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