Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ireland; Government under seige


Senior Ministers of the Government were besieged in their cars by hostile crowds over the last weekend as they attended public events in Dublin and Limerick. An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny was blockaded by protesters in central Dublin as he arrived for an event at the Dublin Mayoralty. A large number of Gardaí (police) attended and serious altercations occurred between them and the protesters. In the most serious incident, a woman who lay on the bonnet of Mr Kenny’s vehicle was forcibly removed by Gardaí and one of them threw the woman violently against a solid metal street bollard avoiding a possibly fatal head injury by sheer luck.

In Tallaght, south-west Dublin, An Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Joan Burton, was besieged in her car by a hostile crowd of local residents in a spontaneous demonstration which was later spun by media as a deliberately organised violent activity. Again, a large force of Gardaí were present and were joined by a section of the Public Order Unit in riot gear which only added to the tension.

The arrival during the demonstration of recently elected Socialist Party TD in a by-election in the area last month, Paul Murphy, led to some accommodation with Gardaí and an agreement for a dignified exit by Ms Burton’s vehicle from the area. But, the POU intervened and removed Ms Burton from her own car and transferred her to a Garda vehicle which drove away at speed. Later in the day, Paul Murphy was vilified by the corporate media and state broadcaster, RTÉ, as an organiser of violent protest despite the fact that only a small minority, mostly juveniles, at the edge of the crowd were throwing objects at the car and Gardaí. There was no media criticism of Garda behaviour at all.

Deputy Prime Minister, Joan Burton, gets a police escort from Tallaght, Dublin.

A similar event occurred in Limerick, where Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, was besieged in his constituency office in the city by a hostile crowd of anti-Water-Tax protesters.  And, tonight, a leading hotel in Cork City, the Rochestown Park, cancelled a pre-booked Government Party (Fine Gael) political meeting for fear of public disorder outside the hotel, much to the ire of Fine Gael supporters in the city.

The controversy over these events, which is continuing, has formed the background to yesterday’s parliamentary statement by the Government offering a complete reconstruction of the new public water utility, Uisce Éireann, with lowered household charges which would be capped until 2019. Announcing the revised charges in the Dáil   yesterday, seen as a major climb down by the Government in the face of increasingly heated street demonstrations, Environment Minister, Alan Kelly, said bills for water would start arriving on doormats next April. Householders will be be liable for charges of €160  for single adult homes and €260 for all other homes. But, "water conservation grants" of €100  a year mean the effective costs will be €60 and €160 respectively. The charges, liable from January 1, will remain the same for just four years, before a review.

But, describing the new charges as a "massive climb down" by the government, Barry Cowen, Fianna Fail environment spokesman, accused the Government of arrogance and defiance towards citizens. The setting up of Irish Water was an unmitigated disaster and the latest in at least ten major U-turns over last year, he said.

The Dáil (parliament) had to be suspended for a time after a walkout sparked by Mr Cowen in reaction to Mr Kelly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny leaving the chamber without listening to Opposition reaction to the levies.Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein leader, urged further protests against the charges. "The Government hasn't got the message yet," he said. "They say they have been listening to the people opposed to water charges."If they were listening they would know that the people are demanding the scrapping of water charges and not a package to sweeten the deal." Under the scheme, householders who do not pay the water charge face late payment penalties of €30 for single adult homes and €60  for others.

Those who don't register for the levy will not qualify for the water conservation grant and will automatically get a €260 a year bill.

The Government measures are not a serious effort to tackle the problems of public water supply in Ireland but a financial manoeuvre to remove the proposed necessary borrowings for infrastructure from the Government balance sheet using householders as scapegoats in their budget trickery. Early indications are that the population has seen through this dodge and the protests and boycott of the charges will continue. An online poll today showed 59% of respondents are still intending not to pay the charges with only 29% willing to stump up:

The next National Demonstration against the Water-Tax, to be held in Dublin on December 10, will be keenly watched by Government and Opposition.