Water charge body blow for Fine Gael

The ongoing water charge debacle illustrates the weakness of our politics, with Fine Gael emerging as the biggest losers of all in terms of Irish Water and how we will fund – directly or indirectly – our future water supply.

And, as Finance Minister Michael Noonan put it last week to party colleagues, it is incumbent for the party that water does not become an issue in the next general election.

The notion of ‘free water’ (it will be paid for, one way or the other, let’s not kid ourselves) and a lack of necessary investment in water infrastructure appears to be what many people want. The opposition appears to be in charge on this particular issue and this has led to weak State rule. An emotive issue back in the 1980s, water has once again reared its head, and it appears that street protests have won the day here.

Surely further such activism will be encouraged as a result of this, despite the fact, for whatever individual motivation, that almost two-thirds of people had paid their Irish Water charges at the end of the first year of billing.

However, an Irish Times/IPSOS/MRBI poll on October 7th suggested that almost two thirds of those polled wished to see water charges fully removed, which underlines how hot a political potato the issue has become – and now toxic it now is for Fine Gael.

Public pay demands may well follow similar lines, despite weak public finances, a recovery which remains tentative, on top of the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the weekend’s Italian Referendum result.

Some facts cannot be lost sight of: the country has debts of €200 billion. A decade ago, that figure stood at €60 billion. Then the crash came, and the Troika soon followed.

Whether we like it or not, investment is needed in our water supply, and the funds for that have got to come from somewhere. One way or the other, we will pay for it, regardless of how the ‘victors’ of this campaign may wish to spin it. Our capital city needs more water. That must and will happen, while reducing waste and making high users pay for that makes economic sense.

So will there be an additional betting or spirits tax introduced, or will, as Sinn Féin has suggested, the monies for new pipes and enhanced supplies come from a retained Universal Service Charge? The Government needs monies to run the country, to fund vital services. This is not just the Government’s problem: it is the problem of every taxpayer in this State. Would an additional 50 cent on a bottle of spirits reduce sales? Probably not. Should betting taxes, dispensed of by Charlie McCreevy (The Curragh was in his constituency) be brought back?

Given how big an industry this is, again we find it hard to argue against its re-introduction, all the more so given the growth in betting.

Further public pay demands are likely to follow. Government is weak. Enda Kenny is weak. Fianna Fáil (featuring the resurrected Bertie Ahern) and Sinn Féin are emboldened, while still keeping a wary eye on each other. The prospect of an election coming sooner rather than later, cannot be discounted. Uncertainty remains unwelcomingly rife. Yet still we’re talking about water.

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