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Another former Minister writes… about water April 27, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Pat Rabbitte in the SBP argues that:

So it was all about water. Water and one-upmanship. Eight weeks of foot dragging and pious rhetoric about new politics. All designed to camouflage the real purpose. It has been a demonstration of the worst of the old politics. Political posturing pretending to offer a choice of minority governments, when in reality what has been going on is jockeying for advantage in preparation for the next election.

There may well be something in that. Though some will smile at the following:

The FG cave-in on Irish Water is a set-back for the party and the country. It is a snub to the LP which politically bore the brunt of the fallout from the original decision.

I’m sure that last was high in the reckoning of FG at this point in time.

What’s fascinating is that Rabbitte confuses political priorities with politics. Or attempts to make a distinction. So he argues that ‘nobody can rationally believe that water is remotely the biggest problem facing the country’ and goes on to praise Irish Water. But surely he realises that it is token of something much broader, the manner of government and the policies of the last two administration during the crisis.
That he cannot or will not see this is educative, is it not?

Again he seems like so many unable to countenance that Irish Water (or any future body) should be funded from taxation. As always I find this inexplicable. He writes;

Revenue raised from assets will be further diminished – by how much we don’t know. Therefore, other services badly in deed of increased investment since the financial crash will suffer.

And on he goes:

For 30 years the trade union movement led a campaign to broaden the tax base and ease the responsibility on the shoulders of ordinary workers and income taxpayers. Introduction of the pretty tax and a charge for water measures designed to broaden the tax base.

Interesting that, for there’s a contradiction there. If water charges were tax measures then why not have them placed on taxable income in a progressive (in both the technical and other sense) manner rather than having them as fixed charges that took no account of income. And how was this measure designed to ease the ‘responsibility’ on ordinary income taxpayers? He does not, cannot, explain that.

He writes:

The EU water directive makes plain that there must be a charge for water.

Ah, so that’s an answer of sorts. But again, why was there no effort even to bring in a modicum of progressivity into the equation?

Anyhow, he does seem to realise that water is merely an aspect of something larger:

The public protests are only partially to do with water. Water happened to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was seized on by the Trotskyist left who provoked SF involvement and latterly FF boarded the bandwagon.

But apart from confusing the involvement of various forces in a way that suggests his read of matters isn’t quite as correct as he seems to think, he also appears to not understand cause and effect and be blaming the “Trotskyist Left” and SF for actions his own government and its predecessor oversaw! That’s quite some trick.

But then one could alter his words and suggest that what he writes about is only partially to do with water. It is perhaps better seen as indicative of a view point from within the government, and the LP component in particular, that despite experience became so utterly detached from political reality in this state that it mistook certainty for correctness, lack of choice for virtue and resistance and dissent for vice.


1. Micheal Lunny - April 27, 2016

The central political conceit of Labour’s argument is that new charges for services expand the tax base, it’s self evidently a lie but also absolutely central to their narrative on the virtue (as opposed to necessity) of moving to consumption charges.

As to the necessity for consumption charges you can find quite a few instances of commentators arguing that progressive taxation will not work for water for three reasons.

* That no party will countenance high enough taxes to pay for good public services.
* That even when taxes are increased funds will go to more visible services (health) and not to low visibility services like water.
* That resources will be wasted unless people pay according to how much they use them.

The difficulty with taking this at face value is that these same commentators never seem to be arguing for either higher progressive taxation or a different allocation of resources – it’s just taken as a “political reality” which they can do nothing about. The argument on resource usage might have some value except that very little of domestic water usage is discretionary – people are not flushing the toilet for fun and when you charge by consumption it’s a poll tax with extra penalties for living in old accommodation, having old appliances or working in a job when you come home dirty.

The media is of course picking up and echoing both parts of this argument.

Conor Pope here:


This is considered useful in recessionary periods, as it stops an underground and largely unseeable water infrastructure competing with highly visible hospitals, schools and old-age pensions for money. And make no mistake: in such a contest, water will always lose – at least while it continues to come out of our taps in a clean and drinkable manner.

And Olivia O’Leary explaining the liberal conundrum here (wealth is too mobile to tax and “income tax” is a tax on work, which is obviously bad), thereby leaving consumption charges the only way to support the less well off (spot the problem there…).


It’s not said enough that the EU water services directive was always intended as a neoliberal wedge. It states the goal is that water must be supplied at the cost it takes to produce: ie: water services have to be viable commercially.

This obviously means that water services would make excellent candidates for privatization and bring ever closer union through multinational ownership of formerly state resources.

Liked by 1 person

gendjinn - April 27, 2016

You are dead right that privatization is the ultimate goal.

Water is a human right. Like the air and environment, water is crucial to the general welfare of the citizenry. It should be paid for out of the public purse – just like roads, if you’re paying a toll it should be for something carbonated, not out of the tap.


WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2016

And note the confusion of the Kelly’s et al of the world between taxes and charges.


Micheal Lunny - April 27, 2016

And how no one in the media every calls them out on it.

After all it is not like it is a clever rhetorical trick, it is just wrong.


gendjinn - April 27, 2016

When a confusion profits the confused, can it really be called confusion?


2. gendjinn - April 27, 2016

Shouldn’t Alan Kelly have always been in FG?


fergal - April 27, 2016

Snap- you’d really have to worry about people like Kelly over this issues- he’s the proverbial dog with a bone- along with Howlin in that report. This guff that labour helped to soften the right wing doctrinaires in fine gael between 2011-16 needs to stop. The labour party in its current guise has positively reveled in its role as austerity enforcer.
Water will cost 3 euros a week- the credit union reported in 2012 that 1.8 million people had 100 euros left after paying their bills for a month http://www.creditunion.ie/communications/news/2012/title,6904,en.php
As my mam used to say ten pence is nothing if you have it but it’s an awful lot of money if you need it.
Recently, the media have been complaing that the real issues are housing, health, creches etc and not water…be careful what you wish for- people power has delivered an awful lot in the area of water..what could it achieve in housing, health, creches etc. Bet you the media wouldn’t be like that so much

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2016

+1 It’s hilarious to see him so doggedly defending the indefensible.


gendjinn - April 27, 2016

They are doing a fantastic job of heightening the contradictions and in a far more moral manner than the contractions are usually heightened.

But AK does raise one concerning point about the EU directive to have a water utility charging people for their consumption. That’s going to have to be dealt with.


Micheal Lunny - April 27, 2016

I believe that though we are obliged to pay enough to make the water service commercially viable that, there isn’t as yet a time limit. It’s much like Sweden and joining the Euro – they have to but something just keeps getting in the way (popular opposition).

The EU commission might choose to make an issue of it at some point (as mentioned it is an important neoliberal wedge) but right now there is no fine ticking upwards.


3. CL - April 27, 2016

Interesting leverage at work here- the Left pressures Sinn Fein, who in turn put pressure on FF; tail wags dog.


gendjinn - April 27, 2016

It’s another in the long and fine Irish tradition of being a mosquito on the elephant’s arse.


4. Ed - April 27, 2016

Fiach Kelly nobly battles on against reality in the IT:

“In its position on water charges, and the price it extracted for facilitating a Fine Gael led minority government, Fianna Fáil drifted from the middle ground to political terrain occupied by Sinn Féin and the hard left. In doing so, it may have alienated some middle ground voters who tentatively began to return to Martin’s party at the recent election.”


So let’s get this clear: people who abandoned FG for FF were abandoning a party that defended water charges to the hilt for one that spoke of abolishing them (and more broadly, abandoning a party with a hard-line pro-austerity programme for one that vaguely spoke of doing things a bit more gently). This people will, apparently, now be outraged if water charges are not preserved; as will the people who voted for FF in preference to SF, I guess. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Kelly that people who were keen to preserve water charges might well have voted for parties that were, you know, in favour of water charges. We need not fear that the retirement of Stephen Collins will end the habit of IT political correspondents talking unmitigated cobblers to prop up the austerity consensus.


Micheal Lunny - April 27, 2016

The Irish Times is still all in on water charges, it shows you just worrisome the prospect of a first major reverse for neoliberal orthodoxy is for the establishment.

It was not supposed to happen this way, and if water charges can not be sold then there is little hope for the broadcasting charge and other privatization initiatives will have to be put off.

For that reason they will not give up on this until it is absolutely hopeless and, a la Venezuela, we can fully expect FG and the media to make the worst of water services under public funding to try and keep the hope alive.

If they can not have water charges they may not want a functioning water system.


5. Donal Mac Carthaigh - April 28, 2016

The EU Water Directive will be a problem for the incoming government, they should demand an exemption, there was one before, but it wasn’t renewed by Alan Kelly. Exemptions were gotten before by Albert Reynolds on not having abortion clinics, but Berries Ahern on not having water changes and by Eamonn Ryan on banning tungston
electric lamps. If they demanded an exemption and stuck to their guns they could get it, the EU have more than enough problems at the moment and would want to avoid another one.
Remunicipalization of water services is allowed by the EU, it has already happened with some European cities. Berlin had to pay big money to get it back, but as it has not been sold to a private corporation we won’t have to buy it back though a way should be found to avoid paying golden handshake to IW bureaucrats.


Donal Mac Carthaigh - April 28, 2016

typo: by Bertie Ahern not berries!


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