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Protesters Maintain Pursuit On Irish Water

The Final Showdown - Irish Water and the People

Protesters Maintain Pursuit On Irish Water

Recent events in the ongoing water dispute put the Western ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid’ in this writer’s mind. For much of the film Paul Newman and Robert Redford are pursued by a mysterious group of bounty hunters. They’re followed over mountains, across rivers and deserts but try as they might nothing they do seems to shake their pursuers. At various times Butch turns to Sundance and asks “Who are those guys?”

At this stage the government must feel like that duo of bank robbers. They’ve tried everything to lose the posse, but when they look back they can still see a trail of dust following in the distance.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. At the end of last year, in the face of massive street demonstrations the government changed tack and started waving carrots about. They lowered the cost of the charge, offered a special sign-up reduction and in a new softly-softly approach dropped any talk of sanctions.

The stick was saved for the edge-of-town poor who were at first demonised and then ignored. Throughout the winter, coverage of water protesters slowed to a treacle. Pretend they’re not there and they might just go away.

But they hadn’t gone away. It’s unclear how many have registered, but what is clear is that a great many haven’t, and a great many of those have no intension of ever doing so. So, as the weeks slide by and each new final deadline was pushed forward to become the next new final deadline you could feel a disquiet rising in government circles. This wasn’t going the way of the property tax.

March’s national demonstration turned into a massive show of strength for the anti-water charge protest. We could argue back and forth about the numbers involved but you cannot watch O’ Connell Street fill from the Liffey to the Rotunda and still claim opposition was dying off.

Many tried. RTĒ News, in an all-out bread and circus routine, buried the protest in Triple Crown rugby and quoting unnamed sources, down played the numbers. Who are these unnamed sources? Where they RTĒ management or perhaps passing space aliens? Can they be identified or are they perhaps hooded, a sinister fringe hiding in shadow?

Somewhere in the midst of all this panic seems to have taken hold on the upper decks. The Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly went from Jackal to Hyde and started threatening to reach into pay packets and peoples social welfare. In essence, his new bad cop message was pay up or I’m coming through the door.

Pat Rabbit accused the national broadcaster of bias, speaking in the Dáil he said “RTĒ has acted as a recruiting sergeant for those who have taken control of, and are manipulating, the water protests”.  He went on to describe RTĒ’s coverage as “Lopsided” suggesting it could derive “…from a decision of the RTĒ Board to strangle Irish Water at birth”.

All this aimed at a station who back in October failed to provide a camera crew or a journalist for the biggest national demonstration since the Gulf war. Surely, not since the very first rattle left the very first pram has there been such a petulant outburst.

On the other hand these attacks on the state broadcaster are likely to be more thought out then they first appear. The RTĒ board are government appointees and owe their position not to any particular skill in strangling utility companies but to their loyalty to the state. Despite this the odd scoop seems to slip through the net and in the week previous to Rabbits outburst, RTĒ broke a story revealing the lack of minutes taken in the meetings that established Irish Water.

RTE are loyal, but not it seems, loyal enough. This broadside from Rabbit seemed to be designed to kick them even more into line then they are already.

Ultimately, this is a battle for middle Ireland. People on quiet roads living quiet lives, who perhaps might shy away from giving an opinion one way or another. They don’t do protests and may find the demonstrators more than a little frightening. But many live in fear of another bill hitting the doormat and their naturally cautious ways may have been tested once too often. Come payment day they could break either way.

It’s all down to the numbers. If enough sign up then ‘Irish water’ is over the line and the government are home free. If they can’t get those numbers, well you may not have seen ‘Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’ and I don’t want to spoil the story. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well.

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