Sage Noonan advises party to kill off water charges
before they become an election issue once again
FOLKSY language is not typical of a gloomy politico like Finance Minister Michael Noonan whose political utterances are delivered in a tone of voice that is just above a whisper and akin to that of a Guantanamo Bay inquisitor.
And when, in that sepulchral way of his, he informed a Fine Gael parliamentary meeting at Leinster House of the threat posed to his party by a dead cat, Blueshirts knew things were ... em ... serious: ‘Y’know,’ Noonan said glumly, ‘isn’t the water services issue like a dead cat and shouldn’t we be asking ourselves this question: can we really allow them (the water charges) to become an election issue. Isn’t it entirely in our interest to kill off the debate?’
Caterwauling, the cynics would say, is a predictable FG response when the party is not the cat’s pyjamas, but rather resembles something that Mr Noonan’s feline friend dragged in (That’s enough catty remarks –Ed).
So, here’s a suggestion. At the next parliamentary meeting, why doesn’t Noonan throw an actual dead cat onto the table, right under Enda’s nose? Of course the response would be that of outrage and disgust but – and here’s the clincher – the plain people of Ireland soon would be talking about Noonan’s cat and not the issue causing him so much distress, namely another walloping in the polls.
The Kerry cat
Of course, his deed would be dramatic, sudden and striking. In South America it’s called the ‘dead cat manoeuvre’ and, basically, it consists of introducing to a political controversy something that is so shockingly irrelevant that it has the effect of switching attention from the question being argued about.
For instance, some years ago a dead cat in Kerry aroused heated public debate after Council road workers inexplicably painted an impressive yellow line over the defunct animal on the road near Ballyheigue. Horror and outrage followed, and for several weeks the deceased tabby was the major topic of conversation while the imbecilic antics of the local politicos – the central point at issue – were temporarily forgotten.
And, by gum, we are sure Noonan would like to have Fine Gael purring at the prospect of recovering its losses – which is achievable if he can prevent water charges from becoming an election issue. Hence the dead cat metaphor!
It won’t be easy. For example, here are some of the cat-melodeon facts for which Fine Gael was responsible – as if the reader needed reminding – and which Noonan would love to have blanked out.
· €172m to set up Irish Water, rushed through the Dáil in just four hours
· €540m spent on water meters
· €80m spent on consultants
· €45m spent on operating Irish Water every year
Oh, and the €490m from the local government fund that was diverted into the water metering company, thus giving the lie to the Coalition assertion that all the monies from the property tax would go into local areas and services.
He certainly doesn’t want the plain people of Ireland back on the streets, chanting ‘enough is enough’ and he certainly could do without a repeat of his own crowd alienating middle-of-the-road people.
Here are some examples of FG extremism:
A Fine Gael TD, Noel Coonan, warned of an ‘Isis situation’ if water protests weren’t ‘nipped in the bud.’ (He deservedly lost his seat in the 2016 election).
Paul Bradford, one time FG Chief Whip, claimed that anti-water charge protesters were admirers of the North Korean regime (Failed to win a seat in the 2016 election).
Deirdre Clune MEP described protesters outside a FG meeting at the Rochestown Hotel as ‘a mob.’ She said ‘all attempts to destroy our democracy with intimidation and threats of violence must be defeated.’
A spokesperson for the hotel denied that it had ‘given in to mob rule’ and that the cancellation of the meeting was not due to political reasons. (Her Ireland South constituents aren’t forgetting.)
And then, of course, there’s the ‘power is a drug’ politico, Labour’s one-time Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, who wanted landlords to deduct unpaid water charges from tenants’ deposits. Indeed he also considered enacting legislation that would oblige the Revenue Commissioners to collect water charges – in effect, to act as bumbailiffs, or seedy debt agents, for a hugely controversial company.
When bluntly asked for a yes or no answer as to whether people’s water would be cut off, Kelly was predictably jesuitical: ‘I don’t advocate or ever want to see anybody going out to cut off anyone’s water.’ Remarkably, when he sought leadership of the now microscopic Labour Party he didn’t get even one nomination.
Not that Alan Kelly was the only one who failed to heed the people’s voice. Kenny, for instance, believed that Irish Water was entitled to demand PPS numbers. The proposal was denounced as ‘the most oppressive information gathering exercise on a population since Joseph and Mary made their arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.’
Experts warned that as well as citizens’ PPSN numbers, Irish Water also would have access to bank accounts, addresses, the number of people per household, phone numbers, emails, health condition of residents and special allowances – a terrifying Blueshirt effort at implementing Big Brother social control.
At around the same time, Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd, who helped set up Irish Water, wailed that the company was carrying 2,000 staff that was not needed. He wanted the entire board sacked on the spot. He said it was a nightmare situation. Indeed!
Skinning that cat
In general terms, public dissatisfaction with Fine Gael knew no bounds. Monster meetings in Dublin and elsewhere followed. They were good-natured and peaceful despite the provocative language from Clune and other reactionary alarmists.
And then, in the 2016 general election, the politically-despised plain people of Ireland ferociously struck back. They ensured that Fine Gael lost 26 seats relative to its 2011 level of 76. The Labour Party literally evaporated, losing 30 seats relative to its 2011 level of 37.
The current situation? A special quango, the Commission on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Charges, recommends that funding for water should primarily come from general taxation and that excessive use of water will have to be paid for by the user. Problem is, what’s meant by ‘excessive usage’?
In the meantime, Noonan is trying to get his party to acknowledge the utter bags it made of water charges or, as he more graphically puts it, water charges are now a dead cat around the party’s neck. In other words, they’re impeding FG from clawing back electoral support.
Formally abolishing water charges is the first step in the party’s rehabilitation process, but it remains to be seen whether Noonan can convince his boss that such is the road to follow. He might yet have to find another way to skin his infamous cat!