Can we do anything right in this country?
Well, actually we can. Ireland leads the world in How Not To Do Things. We’re the best in the whole wide world at that.
How not to sell off a country’s gas resources.
How not to rescue defective banks.
How not to pour billions into the accounts of international gamblers.
How not to confront abusive clergy for money.
How not to build toll-bridges.
How not to design motorway layouts.
How not to break up a rail network.
How not to legislate for abortion.
How not to do e-voting.
Our latest entry in the Harvard Business School’s anthology of disastrous public policy research assignments is of course How not to launch a water company.
Leaving aside whether or not you think we already pay for our water, we can all agree that Irish Water‘s launch has been an unmitigated, ignominious flop. From the invisibility of its chief executive John Tierney to the imperious, condescending tone of its PR person Elizabeth Arnett, this organisation has exuded from every corporate pore the mentality that makes up its DNA.
The old Health Boards were originally part of the local councils. They shared the same staff, the same pedestrian bureaucratic attitudes and the same authoritarian streak, all of which transferred across to the Health Boards when they finally became separate entities, and those attitudes did not go away. Consequently, when they all became amalgamated into the HSE, we ended up with an organisation that was fit for no purpose, packed with unqualified administrators calling themselves managers — a shockingly arthritic and arrogant amalgam of people who thrive best in Irish local government. The dog-licence people.
With the creation of Irish Water, the Health Board step has been skipped and the government is trying to jump straight to HSE/H2O.
It’s precisely the same process with precisely the same overbearing, arrogant attitudes, reflected in the demand that people hand over their PPS numbers and underlined by the fact that it will cost you 35 cents a minute to call them if you have a question.
Insult upon insult, but who’s surprised when the organisation is run by a former local government apparatchik?
I’m not going into the rights and wrongs of paying for water because it’s outside the scope of this post. Let’s do it another day. However, I do think it’s about time the people expressed their rage at the things that have been done to them, including paying the likes of Roman Abramovich full value on the bonds he bought at 10% of face value, and including underwriting the losses of banks that had nothing to do with the broader economy.
It’s only a pity that the same people weren’t out on the streets in a rage when Bertie Ahern and Ray Burke signed over our gas resources to Shell Oil for no return at all to the public purse. What a shame that most people in Ireland swallowed the government’s spin and wrote off the Rossport protesters as cranks but at least they’re waking up now, even if it is in response to some of the stupidest arguments anyone has ever heard.
Clean water doesn’t come free. It never has, any more than food is free or shelter or clothing, and therefore, that end of the clamour is not worth exploring or engaging with.
However, the philosophical question as to whether government should supply unlimited clean water to everyone is another matter, and the debate needs to be conducted in a respectful manner. For myself, I can’t understand the logic of treating water to a level of sterility that it could almost be used in an operating theatre. Why deliver such germ-free water to every home so that most of it can be used to flush toilets, wash clothes, mop floors, water lawns, power-clean driveways and hose the mud from cars? Why do we deliver it to factories to cool machinery?
I think this is bordering on the insane and I think it illustrates very neatly the absurdity of the Irish Water argument.
We’re currently fighting for the right to flush toilets with sterile water.
Is that not mad?
Maybe if we reoriented ourselves and realised that we could resolve all this conflict by rethinking our needs, there might be no need at all for such conflict.
Still though. Didn’t the government make a complete shit of the Irish Water launch?