Hannah Kiely, CEO, HC Financial Advisers
Proverb – something is not working properly
A week is a long time in politics and, by the time your read this, we may well have a happy population regarding water charges, but that is unlikely.
In April 2012, I wrote in this paper the following; “The Republic is the only country of the OECD where water still runs free. But there is still outrage amongst the public. Perhaps this is more to do with the pretty bad handling of the household charge and the water charge coming on foot of this. Perhaps it is also to do with the confusion that reigns around what exactly will be paid for, charged for and so on. The Government needs to start learning about the impact of ‘leaking’ information as much as it needs to commence repairs of the considerable leaking that exists in the underfunded pipes that manage our existing system.”
I concluded that article with, “So, the sooner we embrace the fact that these charges are part of our budget the better. But equally, the Government has the opportunity to be upfront, make the investment and give good factual information and not skirt around with misinformation.”
So what has changed two and a half years later?
Very little and also quite a lot, as it seems. Very little in that there has been little clarity on the charges issue, little progress on communication and little progress in fixing leaks in our creaking system. What has changed quite a lot is that we have, to all intents and purposes, come out of the recession, and we have emerged from austerity or so they tell us. What has also changed considerably is the growing rage amongst the public about the handling of this issue.
It been some time since over 150,000 people took to the streets all over the country in the pouring rain on a dreadful Saturday afternoon. And, whilst the protest is about water on the face of it, it is, in my opinion, more about people being tired of being made to pay all the time with no end in sight. There was no real benefits for workers in the budget, but more and more taxes by stealth!
On Monday last week Irish Water apologised to customers for the mistakes made by the Utility Company in recent months. Minister Alan Kelly also acknowledged the people protesting against Irish Water at the weekend and said under no circumstances would he agree with it being privatised. He did not rule out a referendum on ensuring that the public water supply is kept in State ownership.
These are changes in thinking and are responses to the protests. However, above all what is needed is clarity. Why is it not possible to impose a simple flat charge of say €200 per household per annum or €3.85 per week (with exceptions for those who cannot pay) for a period of say two years until all the issues are ironed out within the utility company? There are approximately 1.7 million households in Ireland. Do the maths! Or is that too simplistic?
If something doesn’t change, the protests will go on. And it doesn’t help to be threatened with a four per cent hike in taxes instead. Many politicians are now refusing to pay, some members of the government parties are quitting. Sales of water butts have doubled for the collection of rainwater of which there is plenty.
The protesting will go on and I wonder if it will surpass the PAYE protests of 1979/80, which the BBC called ‘The largest peaceful protect in post war Europe’.
This RTÉ news report from the 20 March 1979 protest said the streets of the capital hadn’t seen so many people since the 1913 Lockout or 1932 Eucharistic Congress.
On 22 January the following year, some 700,000 workers took part in a general strike, and 300,000 marched through Dublin.
To put those numbers in perspective, the population in Ireland aged 15 and older at the time was 2.34 million, meaning more than ten per cent of them converged on the capital that day.
I wonder if the weather was better would the current protest be surpassed.
HC Financial advisers ……………………..we advise