Dear Enda…. about IRISH WATER

Yesterday on the Twitter machine, Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor with the Irish Independent posed the following question.  “If @irishwater were to somehow start all over again, what advice would you give to the government?”  140 characters were not enough. 
Dear Enda
There is little doubt that Irish Water a complete mess and a PR disaster.  This is the result of rushing at it like a horny bull at a gate into a field of attractive cows, whose eyes are only on the prize, in your Government’s case – the tax revenue.  Remember what your mammy taught you – “fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”
But the Government has a bigger problem.  The imposition of yet another tax on the beleaguered people of this country has finally pushed us to boiling anger.  And this anger is not just, as some commentators would have us believe, because we live in a soggy country where it rains all the time resulting in our having some kind of psychological reluctance to pay for the very stuff that often makes us feel damp and miserable.
We are angry because we have had enough.  We are angry because this is a tax too far.  We are angry because we now know that in two years time most of us; especially those of us who live in urban centres are going to be fleeced with the unfair property tax that is calculated on value of our homes as opposed to square footage.  
We are angry because this is how we are repaid for our compliance with all the austerity that has been forced upon us for debts that we didn’t incur.  It is the people who have allowed your Government and the previous one, to enforce the cuts and taxes that have given you great kudos abroad.  Ireland’s so called recovery is not your triumph – it belongs to the people of this country. 
But we are now saying enough is enough.  We have no more to give.
But let’s park the anger for a moment.  There is obviously a case to be made for the payment of water and the treatment of waste.  In principle I would imagine most of us would accept this.  So here is what I suggest you do.  If, that is, you really are planning for an infrastructure project that will serve this country and our people for the next number of decades and not (as most of us suspect) you are just seeing Irish Water as another way to raise more tax Euros in the short term.
Streamlined, small efficient company
Irish Water should be in the first instance a small and very efficient company.  It should not be a retirement home for workers who previously have been employed by the local councils. There should be no talk of bonuses or whatever other terms have been used to describe same.  Ditto with car allowances and other nonsense.
Fix the leaks
In the first instance Irish Water should be charged with fixing the leaky system.  And don’t give us the line about how will they pay for it?  If Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council can spend €33 million on a monster library, if the GAA can secure €30 million for the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, money will be found.  How much have you spent on the other ill fated project currently on the table, the Children’s Hospital?  This year we will pay in the region of €4 billion in that other awful austerity tax the Universal Social Charge.  As usual in politics – there is always the money – it’s a question of priorities. 
Grants for rainwater harvesting and other water conservation measures
If water is as precious a resource as Irish Water have tried to tell us it is and if we are serious about changing our attitudes to water then it is vital that the Government introduce incentives to allow people to invest a little now in measures that would conserve water in the future.  To me this is a glaring omission to the current plan for introducing water charges.  Bringing in such incentives would also have a positive PR bounce as it would give the impression that instead of being ripped off we are all in this together.  See how we took to recycling?  We can easily do similar with water conservation.
Install meters
Once the company is seen to be fit for purpose and the leaky system has been brought into the 21st century, then Irish Water can begin the process of fitting meters.  But could I suggest that most people would like a meter that they could read easily – similar to the ESB or Gas Meter and not something that exists solely under the ground at the end of the driveway.  We have never paid for water as a separate utility before and most of us have little or no idea about how much we actually use.  It is vital to build trust so a meter that is visible to householders I think is essential.
When all of the above has been completed then it is appropriate to announce a date for billing to start.  I would suggest no earlier than 2020.
Finally – once we are paying for water – there should be no talk of call out charges.  If there is a gas leak – do we have to pay the Gas Company to attend? 
I know that as Taoiseach you are surrounded by advisors that cost me and the rest of us plenty money.  You might like to review their input Enda.  Because Irish Water is rapidly going to go down in history as the biggest government mess ever – eclipsing the E Voting machines and Children’s Hospital and Incinerator messes that have preceded it.
Once you start bullying your electorate Enda you lose them.  This project needs to be completely reimagined.  Irish Water needs to be completely overhauled before you can do anything.  Then slowly, bringing your people with you, there might be some chance of success.  And your legacy may just survive… and I know that’s very important.  Not to us… but to you and your fellow Ministers.
Sincerely

Barbara Scully

P.S oh and by the way Enda, tinkering about with allowances etc is not going to quell the anger… in fact it may do exactly the opposite.  We know you are on the ropes on this one… it’s time for time out and a total rethink and redesign.  

I AM ANGRY – AGAIN

I am writing this on the 26thof June; an auspicious date in Irish history.  It was on the 26th of June in 1963 that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America touched down in Dublin Airport to begin his four day visit to Ireland.  It was also on the 26th of June (1996) that journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered on the Naas Road. A less well known event occurred on the 26th of June 1920 when my maternal grandfather, George Power was involved in the kidnap of a British General who was fishing on the banks of the River Blackwater just outside Fermoy in North Cork. 
All of these events are playing on my mind as I attempt to formulate my thoughts on the revelations contained in the Anglo Tapes which were made public by the Irish Independent last week.  Let me begin by saying that I am angry…. again.
Over the last five years there have been many times I have been angry.  I have watched from my corner of suburbia, without the benefit of a university degree or even much understanding of economics, as this country was brought to her knees and I was angry.  I watched as the previous Government stumbled along through their last days as if punch drunk from the events that seemed to be overwhelming them and I was angry.
Each so called ‘austerity budget’ since has renewed my anger as I witness some of the most vulnerable in our society being stripped of allowances to which they are entitled and which they need in order to live.  I have been angry at how women seem to have borne an unfair portion of this austerity through cuts to carer’s allowance, child benefit, lone parent allowance, tax on maternity benefit etc. 
Almost five years of anger and this week I am angry all over again.  I have spoken to my neighbours, my friends and colleagues and without exception all are furious.  All found listening to the cavalier conversations of some very well paid senior bankers in Anglo Irish Bank as they discussed pulling a master stroke on our Government to be truly nauseating. 
The truth is that they pulled a master stroke on US, the people of this country.  What kind of schools, I wonder, produce this type of caricature of a man – overly macho, arrogant, insensitives who seem to be so removed (or perhaps insulated) from the effects of their irresponsible banking practices.  Their supercilious, self important guffawing turned my stomach. 
As I wrestled to make sense of how Ireland has come to this point in her history I thought of my grandfather, George Power and the ordinary men and women who almost a century ago managed to secure freedom from what was then probably the most powerful empire on earth.  I think of their bravery, of the risks they took in the years leading up to 1922.
I think of the women who ran messages, who operated as undercover agents within the British administration securing vital information for Collins, I think of the people of towns such as Fermoy who were subjected to looting and rioting by British Troops in retaliation for IRA activity.  I think of the families who risked their lives by providing safe houses for men on the run and of how they hid and smuggled arms to keep the push for freedom going forward. 
Last week has also brought the visit of JFK to Ireland in 1963 back into focus with the 50thanniversary celebrations last weekend in New Ross.  President Kennedy made a wonderful speech when he addressed the joint houses of the Oireachtas.  In it he referenced George Bernard Shaw when he said
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
These words are only 50 years old but where the hell is that combination of hope, confidence and imagination now?  Where are these men and women who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?  The men and women who were to the forefront of Ireland’s fight for independence were certainly capable of dreaming of things that never were and must have seemed impossible.  They were surely very antithesis to the lily livered bankers we are hearing on the Anglo tapes.
So how has Ireland gone from a being a nation of courage, imagination and action to a passive place where a cohort of greedy immoral bankers can break us and suffer very little consequences for doing so?  And more importantly why has the anger I sense in the community not translated into action?
Just 17 years ago this country got very angry at the murder in broad daylight of journalist Veronica Guerin.  We got angry and we let the heat of that anger be felt by Government.  Within days action had been taken to seize assets of the criminals and the breaking of criminal gangs began in earnest.  Arrests were made and the search for Veronica’s killers was relentless. 
Veronica Guerin, President Kennedy and George Power and his comrades all knew that (to quote Kennedy again) “problems… cannot be solved by sceptics or cynics of those whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.” 

It is beyond time for clear and imaginative leadership.  I am very unconvinced that such is possible in the current government but the very least we, the people of Ireland, can do is to make our anger felt.  We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our children to insist that action is taken now to prosecute those who gambled our entire country.  I am not sure of how this can best be achieved, no more than those who protested Ms Guerin’s murder dreamed of the Criminal Assets Bureau  .. but that is what we elect and pay our TDs for.  It is our job to ensure it happens.