Irish Water: washing away the mandate fiction

I need to amend the prediction that I have been making since 2011 – that the next General Election would not take place in 2016 (politically dangerous, given the centenary) but in autumn 2015.

Who would I do that?

Because this government has all the signs of one that could implode at any time. It may limp on but it is in terminal decline, just as the Cowan coalition was in 2010.

Not just fractious backbenchers, but fractious coalition ‘partners’. Labour is the new Greens – facing disaster at the polls and with nothing to suggest that the situation can be retrieved. Searchers may comb the shipwreck, but the most they will find is a handful of survivors clinging to life in pockets of foul air.

Fine Gael backbenchers and local authority office holders are talking openly of leaving the party. Fine Gael cabinet ministers, just as previous ministers in the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition like Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern did, are issuing holding statements that bear no connection with the reality of the situation. Labour ministers are operating as if they were deciding policy around water charges, without reference to the senior coalition partner.

This is a shipwreck, for sure. The hole below the waterline is too big to be patched. The rusting hulk will not make it to dry-dock. Even if it did, the shipyard workers are in open revolt.

The sensible thing to do three weeks ago would have been to announce that the Irish Water scam would be mothballed for six months while a new plan was drawn up to be presented to the people. That would have bought time, and might have defused the situation. But arrogance is a blindfold.

This government talks of mandates to implement policies arising from the 2011 election. These are largely a fiction. Fine Gael secured 36.1% of the vote, Labour 19.4%, giving a majority of 55% and a larger majority numerically in terms of parliamentary seats, given the vagaries of the PR-multi-seat system.

That’s a mandate, isn’t it?

Not on water charges, it isn’t. Fine Gael’s policy since 2009 was for the corporatisation (and ultimate privatisation as an ideological consequence) of water, predating any appearance on the scene by the EU-ECB-IMF Troika and their austerity programme. Labour’s pre-election position was the opposite. Both parties offered these commitments in their manifestos. The Fine Gael position secured 36.1% support. That is not a mandate to create Irish Water. Combining it with Labour’s 19.4% for the opposite course of action does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make it a mandate from the people to implement a policy of such far-reaching importance.

Any tinkering around with  water charges, or with Social Welfare vouchers, or with tax credits – which we will pay for anyway through other taxes, will not work. It is too late now. This government is hated. There is open revolt on the streets throughout the country. The most recent opinion poll gives a combined support for Fine Gael-Labour of just 29%. In other words, 71% of the electorate will not, on that indication, support these parties next time out. That is rejection of this government by the people. Add in Fianna Fáil, the third of the parties of permanent government since 1922, and the poll figure is still less than 50%.

My advice to the alternative parties and independents, for what it is worth, is to burn the midnight oil now. Put policies in place now. Talk to one another now to see if a common platform can be created – those policies on which there is broad agreement to implement in the interest of the people who have suffered most, that can point a better way to deal with noxious debt, that can shift the burden of taxes onto the rich, that will put public services including housing, health and education onto a sound and equitable footing, that will protect public utilities within the framework of public ownership and without the possibility of privatisation, and so on.

In other words, a different, enlightened, progressive vision of this country to the corrupt, brutal, counter-revolutionary three-party hegemony that we have endured since quasi-independence.

If those parties and independents of a potential alternative government really do care about the people, and see the State as the servant and the administrative implement of the people, then they will be able to put a programme of essential policies together. If they can’t do that then we will know that, once again, party or personal ego is more important than the needs and demands of the people.

Let us have, for the first time in 92 years, an opportunity to vote for a viable government that is not some combination of the same old corrupt counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil and Labour.

In the meantime, on the street, let’s keep up the relentless pressure on this rotten, incompetent, dictatorial government and its hangers-on.

The people are winning. Consolidate the last victory and move towards the next. Gather together the voices of dissent. There’s a change coming.

Be unified, be determined.

Bí ullamh! Be ready.

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About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

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