You can lead donkeys to water but you can’t make them think (from our first debate on water back in 2011)

14-09-23 John  w Pen Screen Grab

Long after Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been forgotten, long after the distinction between the Independents and the “Endapendents” has been blurred, long after Báel na mBláth and Ballyseedy have been forgiven, our species will be dealing with the consequences of resource shortage. The key issue is not tax or current marginal use of wastage, it is nearly existential. We are the generation in the history of this species on this planet which will determine whether our species will survive. The major evils we are dealing with include an unsustainable level of overpopulation and shortages of critical resources which are necessary for our lives.

We have some experience in this country of intermittent paroxysms of apparent crisis over energy, typically when some international event or industrial relations dispute arises or some other, thankfully transient, event cuts off our supply of petrochemicals. We are not prepared for the real paroxysms that will occur in future generations as we go over the peak of hydrocarbon use and through our failure to address viable alternatives.

We have already seen food riots on our television screens. Thankfully, in this country we have not had systematic famine although I am not trivialising the hunger which I am sure many of our poorer citizens in this Republic have experienced during the years. We had an interesting little social experiment when the severe winter brought us to our knees. In truth, by the standards of other western countries it would have been considered climatically a relatively mild one compared with areas in most of the United States, continental Europe or Canada. We are not talking about people who had a marginal water supply in some remote part of the country, perhaps depending on some ancient and infrequently maintained water facility. I live in leafy Dublin 4, across the street from St. Vincent’s Hospital and approximately two miles from this House. Colleagues can check my allowance. I spent a large chunk of December, January and February on shortened water rations. The reason was not that people in my area were grotesquely abusing water but because the system could not cope with the shortages that occurred consequent to burst pipes.

Looking at the key question, which is water conservation, and the key priority, it seems that what we need to do before we do anything else is to fix the grid and ensure we are not wasting money. Through a process of responsible citizenship we must encourage citizens of the Republic to understand they need to pay attention to water use. Then, when we have the water grid fixed and when we know that the water supply is secure and structural waste has been eliminated, we can consider the appropriate levels of incentivisation of decreased water use.

I have a few concerns on the plan to spend €500 million on the installation of water meters. First, someone has done the arithmetic. If we are going to spend €500 million, we are going to make a great deal back in tax. I would like to know if there is some guarantee that the money which is collected will be used for the maintenance and upgrading of the water grid or, as my colleagues from Sinn Féin have just hypothesised and which is a compelling argument, whether it will just disappear into that general sink-hole of money that is funding our bailout.

In particular, I am very attracted by the notion of Roman Abramovich’s yacht, which I presume probably uses more fresh water than the average small village in rural Ireland. I wonder how much of his investment in our banking system is going to be bailed out by the money which we are paying on water charges. For all of those reasons the priorities are to fix the grid, end structural waste, inform better citizenship in the use of water resources and, when we have done those things, try to think of a fair way to incentivise decreased use. I find myself saying something that my mother would not be really happy to say: I add my support to the Sinn Féin amendment.

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