Why? Fianna Fáil supported the following Sinn Féin motion and in so doing voted against pact colleagues Fine Gael and Labour, with whose agreement the previous year they’d guaranteed some plum Council positions between now and 2016.
The motion, tabled by Councillor Declan Clune, reads: “That Waterford City & County Council calls on the Government to: Immediately cease domestic water charges which are an unjust double charge and are more about privatisation than conservation; Immediately stop the installation of water meters across the country; recognise that Irish Water is not fit for purpose and it should be abolished (and) Cease the threat of taking water charges from people’s salary, pension and/or social welfare benefits as is currently planned.”
Now let’s rewind to the Fianna Fáil-fronted National Recovery Plan, which informed the public about “a scheme for metering and charging for domestic water”, something which
current FF leader Micheál Martin was acquiescent to when sitting in cabinet.
“Charging for water will introduce a new revenue stream to meet costs at present funded by taxation,” reads the National Recovery Plan.
“The cost for the provision of water services to the domestic sector in 2008 was €590 million. The proposed charging for this – less an adjustment for the cost of the proposed free allowances – will improve the General Government position.
“The Exchequer also provided €508m in 2010 to fund capital investment in water services. It is intended that domestic water charges will cover local authorities’ operational costs. A proportion of the capital cost of providing water services to the domestic sector will also be recovered through the charge.
“Overall it is anticipated that these measures could lead to annual savings of up to €500 million per annum on operating costs with further significant capital savings arising on a graduated basis the following years.
“These savings will arise as a result of the new revenue accruing from the water charges. In addition, savings will result from the incentive effects of the metering system which will reduce demand to economically efficient levels over both the short and long term. It is estimated that the value of the operational and capital savings that will accrue in this manner will be significant.”
And the introduction of water charges is also included in the Memorandum of Understanding signed on Ireland’s behalf with the European Commission on December 16th 2010 by then Finance Minister, the late Brian Lenihan and Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan.
For the record, on page 9 of the ‘MoU’, point 24 states: “We are also planning to move towards full cost-recovery in the provision of water services.”
This, one can imply without too great a stretch of the imagination, would be achieved by the introduction of the water charge as outlined in the 2011-2014 National Recovery Plan.
In his Ard Fheis address on April 25th, Deputy Martin said the water charges, as per their implementation by Fine Gael and Labour: “will give the State little or no additional net income – and they are not required to fund the renewal of the water system .
“Instead of charging people to receive sub-standard services we say fix it first.”
Many, even those who would have no intention of voting for Fianna Fáil come the next election, would see logic and merit in the ‘fix it first’ suggestion.
But who in the Fianna Fáil hierarchy was making this pertinent point when discussing this State’s financial future (along the suspension of our economic sovereignty) with the Troika almost five years ago?
However, at the plenary meeting held last November, Fianna Fáil had a slightly different take on Cllr Clune’s motion regarding water charges, which, while not worded in exactly the same manner last week, called for:
* A reversal of the proposed charge on the basis of it being a form of double taxation.
* The end of meter installations and for €539 million in loan finance from the National Pension Reserve Fund to be used to fixed leakages and supply interruptions.
* To recognise that Irish Water wasn’t fit for purpose “since it is unaccountable to the Minister…the Oireachtas and the citizens of the State.
* Prevent Irish Water from any further excessive spending, such as that earmarked for external consultants, and
* To listen to the anger of the public, as manifested via the many marches and public meetings held locally and nationally.
However, a proposed amendment by Cllr Damien Geoghegan (FG), seconded by Cllr Michael J O’Ryan (FF) won the support of the 15-strong FG/FF/Lab pact.
It read: “That Waterford City & County Council calls on the Government to: Immediately cease domestic water charges which are an unjust double charge and are more about privatisation than conservation; Immediately stop the installation of water meters across the country; recognise that Irish Water is not fit for purpose and it should be abolished (and) Cease the threat of taking water charges from people’s salary, pension and/or social welfare benefits as is currently planned.”
Seven months later, Fianna Fáil weighed in behind Cllr Clune’s motion, which was carried by 19 votes to five, while eight Councillors, including City & County Mayor John Cummins, had offered apologies for their non-attendance on the night.
Those who voted for the motion were Declan Clune, Pat Fitzgerald, John Hearne, Siobhan Whelan, Jim Griffin, Breda Brennan (SF), Eddie Mulligan, Eamon Quinlan, MJ O’Ryan, John O’Leary, Jason Murphy, Adam Wyse, Tom Cronin, Mary Murphy (FF), Blaise Hannigan, Sean Reinhardt, Joe Kelly, Joe Conway and Cha O’Neill (Ind).
Those opposed to the motion were Liam Brazil, Declan Doocey, John Carey, Seanie Power (FG) and John Pratt (Lab) while eight Councillors weren’t present for the vote: John Cummins, Damien Geoghegan, Lola O’Sullivan, Pat Nugent (FG), Davy Daniels, Mary Roche, Seamus O’Donnell (Ind) and James Tobin (FF).
That Micheál Martin has changed his Irish Water tune in opposition is hardly a crime, but one suspects many voters will remind his party’s general election candidates of their position on water charges when last they held office.