October 25: It may be time to think the unthinkable on Irish Water

POLITICAL expediency may yet bring about drastic changes to the way Irish Water operates at every level – perhaps even the nuclear option of its closure cannot be discounted.

POLITICAL expediency may yet bring about drastic changes to the way Irish Water operates at every level – perhaps even the nuclear option of its closure cannot be discounted.

Locally, a protest march from City Hall this Saturday afternoon will have its ranks swelled by some rather high-profile rebels, not least the cathaoirleach of Limerick City and County Council, Kevin Sheahan, and Joe Leddin, the man seen as the most likely Labour Party general election candidate in the event that Minister Jan O’Sullivan were to decide not to run.

Cllr Sheahan has called for Irish Water to be abolished, after yet another week of absolute fiasco. It’s a drastic scenario but who is to say it is not the right thing to do, given Irish Water’s now toxic reputation? Almost €200 million has been spent by the company to date, but this in itself is not a good enough reason to persist with Irish Water.

The latest cause of public outrage – a surreptitious and utterly unjustified bonus scheme – has sent Government politicians into a panic, wondering if the fallout will kill their potential bounce in the opinion polls after the most voter-friendly Budget in years. Worse, they wonder if this issue could dog them all the way to the 2016 general election. The answer to that must be an unequivocal Yes, because there is no reason to believe that the shambles we have witnessed is likely to be arrested any time soon.

We have had, so far, evidence that much public money have been ill-spent in the setting up for Irish Water. The drip-drip of new disclosures and its abject communication with both the media and the general public has damaged the company to an alarming extent. It is as if no lessons were learned from the administrative monster that the HSE became. Anecdotally, we hear stories of Irish Water paying way above normal levels for services and other costs. The full extent of its failure to obtain value for public money has yet to be revealed; however, investigative journalism over the next 18 months may well uncover more inconvenient truths for a government that must now wish it had not given itself the headache by setting up Irish Water in the first place, admittedly at a time when the country was under severe pressure to come up with new sources of revenue.

The principle that we should pay for water is soundly based, because it is such a precious resource that the public must be given disincentives to waste so much of it. Irish Water, however, may have lost too much public confidence already. Perhaps the answer lies in disbanding it and given responsibility for water back to the local authorities, with a simpler and more equitable system of revenue collection. Perhaps it is time to think what, only a few months ago, might have seemed unthinkable.