Surely one of the loopiest things ever heard in the Dail
Published 14/04/2015 | 00:00
Of all the bizarre and questionable and even downright loopy ideas ever put forth in Dáil Eireann, there was one last week that must rank amongst the most nutty of all.
In essence, it would reward people who disobey the law and punish people who do - hardly the sort of vision that most of us would like in any person or party with an eye on being in government after the next election.
Given how it would promote civil disobedience, it's no surprise that it came from Sinn Féin - a party not yet so far removed from certain elements of its past that it still can't stop picking and choosing which rules and regulations should apply to them, and which they should either ignore or reject. Witness even two further examples last week as proof - the use of Leinster House grounds for filming a party political broadcast, and Mary Lou McDonald's refusal to accept a finding that she abused Dáil privilege by naming six former politicians as being linked to alleged tax evasion.
The 'reward the bad, punish the good' idea was contained in the document they published last Wednesday morning, where they said the first thing they would do if elected to government would be to abolish Irish Water and all domestic water charges.
As a result, anyone who doesn't pay the charge they are legally obliged to pay this year wouldn't be pursued for arrears, nor would there be any other action against them.
However, the good citizens who do in fact pay up would not get a refund - so they would effectively be punished for obeying the law as it stands, in that they'd be down a couple of hundred quid in comparison to the 'no way, we won't pay' brigade.
But the nonsense didn't stop there - as the Shinners said on the one hand that they would move to have a 'right to water' enshrined in the Constitution, but then on the other hand said that people who are members of group water schemes in rural areas would still have to pay. And there was no mention at all of other rural folk who have to sink their own well and then maintain their water and sewage system at their own expense. It would appear that in the Sinn Féin world, the Constitution wouldn't apply to everyone - but then again, they like to pick and choose to suit their own needs, so that's probably no surprise.
Businesses would still have to pay water rates too - but at least they'd be assured of a quick response if they ever had to phone up to query their bill. For according to a Shinner spokesperson, they would continue to honour all contracts with all staff at Irish Water as agreed. Considering that 750 were taken on to deal with inquiries from householders who would no longer need them, that would appear to be a hell of a lot of customer service staff for the commercial consumers who would be left. The computers in that office would probably see more Facebook action than customer account activity.
Yet another problem with the Shinner proposal is that it doesn't actually contain any real specifics on who or what would become responsible for the delivery of water to Irish homes if or when Irish Water is abolished.
Spokesman Pearse Doherty, when pressed, spoke only in broad and generic terms about a new public body that would answer to a government department and a government minister, and that would most likely have a greater involvement again by the local authorities who were responsible for water supply before Irish Water was established.
He pointed towards Northern Ireland Water as an example of what he said could be done - saying it's a 'publicly-owned, publicly-accountable utility company, which doesn't charge domestic customers'.
They may not charge domestic customers directly - but consider this: the annual domestic rates on a STG £120,000 house (approx. €165,000) in Derry, for example, are in the region of £1,000 (approx. €1,380).
Here in the Republic, the Local Property Tax on a house of the same value is €315. That means you could pay property tax AND water charges and still be hit for less than half of what the nordies pay for services including their 'free' water. That's not something the Shinners are likely to point out to you themselves.
Finally, the Shinners are stuck too for what they would call the new company, since 'Irish Water' would no longer suit.
We could make a few suggestions.
Perhaps they might consider 'Real Irish Water'.
'Continuity Irish Water' might suit either.