Refuse charges battlelines drawn - We are at a significant crossroads

If only for a moment, set aside the Fawlty Towers ineptitude that condemned water charges.

Forget, for another moment, that despite all of the political capital squandered, despite all the opportunism — and the preying, principle-free opportunists — we still don’t have a revenue stream dedicated to upgrading our water supply.

All that time, all the energy invested in a badly needed civic project achieved nothing. The Victorian pipes. More than 40% — a lot more in some areas — of drinking water is lost.

Every summer we come closer to water rationing. Money that should fund hospitals or social housing or other essential services is diverted to keep a clapped-out water system on life support. Strangely, some people regard this as a victory.

Sadly, the arguments used against water charges will be dusted off to challenge another badly needed civic project. The won’t-pays are recycling placards to oppose any proposals around how we pay for refuse collection.

That political opposition is predictable, even if it seems the immediate issue — refuse charges — is no more than a hook to hang increasing and justified frustration with establishment politics.

While this campaign is gathering momentum, the hapless Minister for Communications and Environment Denis Naughten can only dare to glance over the parapets of Leinster House to try to gauge the gathering storm.

Any comfort that might offer him, little enough presumably, will be tempered by the fact that just over his shoulder many of his Dáil peers are determined to maximise the opportunity to undermine him and this shaky administration.

Mr Naughton’s emotional stability can hardly have been enhanced by the number of deferrals plaguing this project. Another one came from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday who long-fingered it for at least 15 months.

Some delays have been for political reasons, more because the architecture of the project was found wanting but whatever the reasons the fiasco is beginning to look all too familiar.

That familiarity suggests two things — Government has learnt little enough from the water charges debacle and those opposed to service charges under any heading understand that by shouting loudly they can wring concessions from a weak Government.

The won’t-pays are playing ducks and drakes with the can’t-legislates. The Government’s capacity to legislate, its ability to deliver its democratically secured mandate is shot through — and it has only itself to blame.

This situation is unsustainable and the majority of people who recognise that water charges are necessary are left high and dry. Centre-ground moderates are disenfranchised. If the plans around refuse — whatever shape they take — meet the same fate as water charges, then we will be in stormy waters.

It may seem a quantum leap to move from water or refuse charges to Donald Trump but he is, so far at least, the most spectacular expression of the anger provoked by established parties’ failure to recognise that the same-old, same-old won’t work anymore.

We are at a very significant crossroads, one that may be far more significant than we care to recognise. Extremism, in religion or expectations, cannot prevail.


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