It will be remembered for generating distrust.
Over the past week, we’ve had various members of the Government assuring us of this and that – all giving solemn promises with straight faces.
The water taxes will be fair, no privatising the water supply – trust us.
The penny hasn’t dropped – nothing at all they say is taken at face value. Nothing they say is believed until we’ve parsed each sentence and sent dodgy syntax to the lab for analysis. Nothing.
This is not because there’s been a sudden surge in scepticism among the people – it’s because this Government has misled, misinformed, deceived and flat-out lied about matters of consequence. And about trivial matters.
We were told the water tax is about conservation – a lie. We were told Irish Water is about repairing the leaky pipes – another lie.
Details were put up on the Irish Water website telling us signing up meant our PPS numbers and other personal details became “assets” that Irish Water could sell when privatising the water supply.
They suddenly took that information down. It was a mistake, they said. Was the mistake in including those details or in letting us see them before we’d signed up?
When Brendan Howlin speaks of why we need water meters what I hear is his unambiguous statement: “It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions of euro metering a leaky system.”
He said that one week before the 2011 election, and just 19 days before he became a minister and began working towards the installation of water meters on a system getting leakier by the day. On February 18, 2011 he said that the hundreds of millions that would be spent on meters should be used to upgrade pipes to save the half of all treated water that leaks out of the system.
We’ve had untrustworthy politicians in the past, but never has a government earned our distrust so quickly, so totally and so irredeemably.
After the huge protest marches all around the country, the Taoiseach was asked for a response. He said it was either accept his water tax or he’d have to put up income tax by 4pc.
This was untrue and we will come to the detail in a moment.
Last week, Joan Burton was under pressure in the Dail from her constituency rival Joe Higgins, who outlined the expected water charges. She replied that the charges would be “below €200”. Subsequently, she said this was a personal hope. Enda Kenny said she was speaking “in a personal capacity”.
This was untrue.
Joan Burton, as a citizen or a TD, has no more right than I have to stand up in the Dail in such circumstances and speak in a personal capacity. She was speaking as Tanaiste, as such she has duties she is paid to perform.
Everyone knows what happened. Under pressure, Burton did an Anglo – she pulled a number out of her arse, in a forlorn attempt to get one up on Higgins.
Apart from, perhaps, some tentatively democratic outfits on the fringes of Eastern Europe, there’s no parliament in the world that would allow such conduct.
And here’s Burton, as Tanaiste, enlightening parliament: “We do not need what Deputy Joe Higgins seems to want, which is for everybody to be on social welfare.”
This doesn’t even make the grade as a juvenile statement, it’s just plain childish. If this was muttered by an ill-shaven backbencher we’d shrug -what more can we expect. But this is this parliament’s Tanaiste speaking.
After four decades of political neglect, during which Kenny and Burton have been politicians and enjoyed office for significant periods, the water supply is in rag order.
And they’re pretending this is what the water tax is about. Had they laid out the facts – at any time over those decades – and proposed a course of action, the public response would almost certainly have been positive. However, from 2008 to 2011 Fianna Fail punched us in the face – one charge after another charge, on one pretext or another. Cuts followed charges, which followed more cuts.
Kenny and Burton told us we shouldn’t put up with this, they had a different plan. Once in office, they commenced punching us in the face in precisely the same manner.
It’s a revenue-raising mechanism; if it works out, it can be privatised – and it’s the kind of measure the ECB and Ms Merkel love. It might even fix the pipes.
For us, the water tax is just one more punch – one too many.
Where did the Taoiseach get his threatened 4pc income tax rise? Pulled it out of his arse.
Michael Taft, on his Notes on the Front blog, has done the maths, as has Tom McDonnell from the Nevin Institute. Separately, they put on the table enough facts and figures to tell us what’s going on – in a way no government minister has bothered.
The Government needs to take in about €305m in household charges to trigger an EU rule that allows them to borrow money through a government-funded “commercial” company, “off the balance sheet”. This creates a pretence that the Government isn’t borrowing the money, and it keeps the deficit looking like it’s under 3pc. It fools no one. Not investors – many of whom are able to read – and not the EU.
To make this work, hundreds of millions have to be spent on installing water meters and more hundreds of millions on a company infrastructure to process the charges.
This is all waste.
Kenny wouldn’t need a 4pc tax increase to net the €305m – but he would need it to massage the figures, to make it look like his off-the-balance-sheet trick was keeping the deficit down. Again, childish behaviour.
Here’s Micheal Martin in the Dail: “What’s the minimum level of revenue required to enable the Government to borrow off-balance-sheet and invest in water infrastructure?”
Simple question. The Taoiseach simply wouldn’t give parliament the information. He taunted Martin about Fianna Fail wanting a water tax.
Martin asked the question again. “What’s the level of revenue required by the Government to enable it to borrow off-balance-sheet? The Taoiseach must have that figure. He knows it, but for some reason he will not tell us.”
Kenny wouldn’t say. He mumbled.
Martin said: “I cannot hear what the Taoiseach is saying. The Taoiseach is speaking, but he’s inaudible. Will the Taoiseach tell us the figure for God’s sake? This is ridiculous, he’s mumbling under his breath.”
This is deceit by omission.
Article 28.4.1 of the Constitution says: “The Government shall be responsible to Dail Eireann.” Instead, the Dail is treated as a rubber stamp. The Cabinet has been sidelined by Kenny’s Economic Management Council, which makes decisions in secret and imposes them on Cabinet. Kenny refuses to give the Dail information to which it is entitled.
Instead, they prepare goodies. Right now, they’d pay us to sign up, and jack up the prices later, to claw the money back when we’re metered and invoiced.
Meanwhile, the smears. Apparently, the 150,000 people who protested against the water tax are dupes and harbourers of violent subversives.
Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice, put on her frowny face and told us that “violence and intimidation” are not acceptable. Various ministers joined in.
Independent evidence of violence or intimidation is infinitesimal, compared with the size of the protests.
It’s not the business of the Minister to smear the protesters, under the guise of a homily on violence. It’s the business of the police to arrest and bring before the courts anyone they find engaging in violence or intimidation.
And that applies to other gardai, too.