A scene from Carrick-on-Suir over the winter when the Suir burst its banks to flood sections of the town.
DO you remember our rain-sodden late autumn, winter and spring? Do you remember those grey days when swirling dark clouds obliterated the views of even the lower slopes of the Comeraghs, Slievenamon and the Galtees?
Do you recall the radio news which accompanied our breakfast porridge and which reported flooding in the Midlands, the threatened inundation of Cork, the water-logging of vast areas of farmland?
Can our communal memories be so short-lived that we cannot now see in our mind’s eye those media pictures of dejected people throwing their sodden carpets and furniture into skips? All this was at a time, not so long ago, when our conversations were all about the rain. “Will it ever stop?” we asked each other. We had developed a special brand of rain-obsessed Irish neurosis. And with good reason. It rained and rained and rained.
So, since rain is the source of our water, where has all the water gone? Some of it, hopefully, has sunk into the ground and will reinforce our ground-water in the future. But most of it has run off into the Atlantic. And now we have a crisis in our domestic water supply. We are threatened with fines and possible prosecution if we wash our cars, or hose the flower-bed or linger in the shower. Some of us even have resorted to going out after dark to water the geraniums with the wash-up water, just in case a neighbour might snitch on us to “somebody in authority.”
All of this in our rain-soaked, rain-sodden, rain-obsessed island where we have had a drought just because the sun has shone on us continually for a few weeks. Our European neighbours who live with the sun for long periods during the seasons, and who do not have a water crisis, must be laughing at us all the way to their well-stocked storage facilities, their over-flowing reservoirs, their efficient delivery systems, their conservation policies which involve metering, and for which they pay, just as they pay for all the other necessities of modern life, electricity, garbage disposal, the food they eat.
And that brings us, inevitably, to Irish Water, two ordinary words in the English language and which, combined, have been converted into “dirty” words by some of our opportunistic politicians. Wash-out-your-mouth as you utter them - that is if you can now find enough water to do the washing!
It is widely accepted that Irish Water was arbitrarily and arrogantly introduced into legislation: that it was rushed through the Dáil without adequate examination or debate; that no opportunities were afforded for the submission of practical amendments. The scenario, presented to us by the media, was that it was over-staffed by former public employees, retired, over-pensioned, all of whom, we were warned, would impose ever-increasing charges on us, and would ultimately sell the whole shebang to an international cartel, which, in turn, would fleece us.
Thus presented, it was a turn-off for ordinary people emerging from a period of punitive austerity, but it was a godsend for that stratum of politics which nurses grievances. Under the banner of that rag-tag of small parties, based in North Dublin, and self-labelled as The Hard Left (and whom many would describe as the Pay-For-Nothing Parties) they called for public protest. They were followed by a scared Sinn Féin and joined by some Independents concerned about the prospects of their re-election.
Fianna Fáil which, had already agreed the necessity for water-charges, lost its nerve, and the Labour/Fine Gael government, facing defeat, agreed that water charges should be abandoned. The dissenting politicians basked in victory. Those - the more responsible - who realised that our current system urgently needed replacement, requiring substantial investment, retreated into silence. Populism had won the battle.
Yet, the facts are that Irish water, warts and all, was the only urgently available medium through which that system, inherited from the 19th century, could be replaced by a system geared to meet the demands of today. And those demands not only included an adequate supply for current personal and domestic purposes, but were an absolute necessity for industry. Which prompts the question: Would any prospective investor, researching the climate for an industry, now choose a country which has a crisis when the sun shines on twenty consecutive days?
The cost of the proposed replacement of our current system, for which Irish Water was to assume responsibility, was estimated as €8 billion, which could be immediately borrowed, at relatively low interest rates. The guarantee was the charge which each household would pay based on metered consumption. Deprived of this investment, all that can now be done is to urgently repair the fractured system, inserting a new piece of piping here, stopping a leak somewhere else. Major work in collection, storage and conservation has had to be abandoned.
Have any of those anti water charges politicians any comment on the current problem? There hasn’t been a word from them. Not a peep!
And do we, who joined those merry protesting street marches last year having great fun, chanting our slogans following the leader, revelling in the craic, ever ask ourselves: whatever happened to all of that rain that fell unrelentingly from the sky just a few months ago?