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Water story – or is the LP changing its narrative slightly? March 7, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Odd piece by Pat Rabbitte in the SBP at the weekend – and it links into a point made by IEL here in comments in relation to the Stephen Collins story on water charges in the IT last week. Rabbite examines the issue and like Noel Whelan and Collins finds FF wanting. In particular he argues that ‘one would have expected the party that originated water charges in 2010 would have little difficulty in adopting the Commission proposal at that ere ought only charging ‘for excessive use’’. Perhaps so, and yet could one not argue similarly that one might have expected the party that was vehemently opposed to such charges in the 1990s might have remained so into the 2010s? That would, of course, be the Labour Party.

Indeed rather entertainingly he writes that ‘Labour’s original stance that every household should have a generous water allowance with charging for excessive use looked like becoming the marjoity position of the Oireachtas Comm9ttte until the latest U-Turn by FF’.

But again, that wasn’t Labour’s original stance on water charges – at one point. They were firmly against. Why is it that that change isn’t explained?

And why is it quite so incomprehensible to him that FF, for all its flaws, might not want to impose water charges, for entirely political reasons of course, given that they showed no huge appetite to impose same pre-crisis? Indeed it is this long running sense of water charges as proving a sort of political virility outside all proportion as to their actual importance (for the right) that is fascinating.

And what of this comment of Rabbitte’s?

There is no denying the damage that the water controversy has done to the LP. There is no comfort for the party in the knowledge, that, even for some people in the public protests, the issue was not water at all, but austerity. But water was the last straw and political circumstances inducing a by-election fell kindly for the protesters.

Of course it wasn’t just water. Of course it was austerity. Water became token of austerity. And rightly so. And it was never ‘just’ austerity. Austerity had very real impacts – continues to do so, will do so into the future.

What’s particularly interesting is that he appears to be wanting to say that for all that LP was hesitant or reluctant to introduce water charges, at least in the form they appeared.

…there is no denying the conflict that took place [between FG and the LP] on water. It was exacerbated by the original decision, driven by the troika, to complete in two to three years what experts advised should take five to seven years.

But hold on, here he seems to be saying that at best the LP was only concerned about the timescale, not the actuality of water charges.

Yet he complains that the FG/LP government ‘published a minimum average household charge, before the local elections urged by FG… however it was the the decision by someone in FG to organise the leaking of the charges before the cabinet met that led to the worst knockdown brawl between the two parties’.

And he continues:

The FG-LP government might well have fallen arising from that cabinet meeting. FG ministers underestimated the significance of charging for water. Five out of six LP ministers were present for the water item and all made their feelings vehemently known.

Does that mean that they were completely against it? And…

Some in the party may now regret that Labour did not withdraw after that dispute.But local elections were imminent and could the party justify collapsing a government that was created to handle the biggest economic crisis since independence?


Then as now there were and are bigger issues facing the country. But to create a new dispute that,we are told, may lead to a general election when the issue is narrowed to charging for excessive use is almost beyond comprehension.

Yet, yet, yet, he himself admits that at a more parlous time (from his perspective) the LP was close to collapsing the coalition. And he himself admits that LP Ministers were ‘vehemently’ against water charges.

Yet he takes FF to task for adopting a similar position?

All very strange.

And as IEL notes, Labour has recently been ‘full in their self praise recently over their role in bringing in water charges’. This column by Rabbitte appears to diverge every so slightly from that. How on earth does he/they square that circle?


1. dublinstreams - March 7, 2017

you’ll have to remind me when “Labour’s stance on water charges were firmly against” ?


WorldbyStorm - March 7, 2017

Well implicitly this from 87 http://www.clririshleftarchive.org/document/1555/

Granted thirty years ago but I’d love to know the rationale subsequently for shifting from that position.


2. dublinstreams - March 7, 2017

oh ffs 1987? the relevent peroid is 2011.


WorldbyStorm - March 7, 2017

To you. To me I’m intrigued by how they covered the retreat from social democracy in the intervening years (and the document quoted above was their ‘model’ for activism by the way), and yet can arrive at a column like the one quoted above where they try to hunt with the hounds and run with the fox.


WorldbyStorm - March 7, 2017

And should I even mention the entertaining contortions the ex-DL folk in the LP went through in order to justify their change of position?


dublinstreams - March 7, 2017

when did they change their position?


WorldbyStorm - March 7, 2017

That’s the question.


WorldbyStorm - March 7, 2017

Actually check this out.

http://www.thejournal.ie/labour-water-charges-1987847-Mar2015/. I thought they’d been anti water charges much more recently, at least rhetorically. And indeed as late as 2011 they ruled out water charges according to the above. So now we still have Pat R attempting to bend the narrative back despite the report linked above where st least some future ministers were contemplating them.


3. dublinstreams - March 7, 2017

The Labour 2011 backs Pat Rabbittee http://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/labour_election_manifesto_2011.pdf “Labour does not favour water charges” couldn’t be described as firmly against


WorldbyStorm - March 7, 2017

The point still stands though doesn’t it, what was the development within the LP more broadly that saw them wind up supporting charges?


4. Ian O'Mara - March 7, 2017

The 2011 Programme for Government committed Labour (and Fine Gael) to establish Irish Water, then to install water meters in every household and “move to a charging system that is based on use above the free allowance”. Clearly that was the basis of the agreement reached between the two parties in 2011 and Pat Rabbitte’s comments about the pace of introducing the regime have to be seen in that context.

Also, by the time Phil Hogan set out detail of the water charges in 2014 he was already damaged goods from the introduction of the Household Charge, the Local Property Tax, his centralisation of the local government system and the manner in which he rammed the legislation required to set up Irish Water (and similarly introduce septic tank charges). All of those initiatives had Labour support at a conceptual level and taken in isolation, a government like that FG/Labour one could potentially have won the argument on water charges.

However I think by the time the charging regime was finalised (in haste ahead of the local elections) public (and Labour’s) trust in Phil Hogan’s capacity was extremely low and he was already headed to the exit door in any case thanks to Enda Kenny’s promise of a job in Brussels.

I think much of the analysis on why water charges failed doesn’t appreciate the top-down, heavily centralising instincts that are inherent in the civil servants running the Department of Environment and in the local authority county managers (who are often ad idem on overruling local democracy and councillors).These people have the mindset that led to the appointment of a former Dublin City Council manager to run Irish Water and to the spending of millions on consultants. Phil Hogan utterly failed to over-rule their excesses (and in fact the manner in which he managed the Irish Water legislation suggests he acquiesced entirely).

Of course, most people (understandably) just blame political parties for political fiascos without looking at the underlying angles within the relevant government departments. I wouldn’t blame them and of course the anti-water charges left honed in on Labour’s vote in particular.

However, from a Labour perspective, when you see all this coming from a coalition partner that supposedly trades on a self-image of competency and being capable of acting in the national interest, I think it wasn’t unreasonable for Pat Rabbitte and Labour to feel aghast at the total debacle that FG’s stewardship of water charges became. Labour took the hit for FG’s incompetency.


dublinstreams - March 7, 2017

Who should we blame for political system failures other then politicians, Labour was in cabinet as Pat Rabbitte says, it cannot take the blame for FG, they both made the decision.


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