Whilst I do disagree with many of the anti-water tax protesters (not all of them, mind) I do have great sympathy with one point they make. When Irish politicians of almost any political persuasion make a promise, it’s very hard to take it to the bank.
I have no doubt that there is no party in Dail Eireann that would support privatising Irish Water. But I also know, from my own personal experience, that there is no shortage of Irish political types who, if told by their political bosses to work out a way of doing it without calling it “privatisation” would do it without a single moral qualm. Not only that, but they’d regard themselves as really clever for figuring it out. You’ve met them: they’re the people who say “water charge” every time you say “water tax” as if they can hypnotise you to their view through repetition, and end up coming across as disingenuous tossers.
This is the problem. We talk about the need for political reform, but the biggest reform should be for a politician’s word to actually mean something. Our problem is that our political system is occupied at all levels by people for whom honour means nothing. Who say they won’t go into government with X, and then after the election find some fragment of an excuse to do the exact opposite of what they said they’d do. That’s why so many of us have lost faith in the political system.
Fianna Fail have a policy document on their website which pledges, amongst other things, to stop sitting TDs from being ministers at the same time. It’s an incredibly radical proposal. Yet is there anyone who believes they’ll actually implement it? Of course they won’t, yet it’s their stated policy right there in black and white. This isn’t to single out Fianna Fail: indeed, if recent history has told us anything, Fianna Fail’s problem has not been breaking promises but making outlandish spending promises and keeping them. But it is indicative of how one’s word means nothing in Irish politics. Fine Gael and Labour sabotaged their own stated policy on an elected mayor for Dublin.
It doesn’t have to be like this, nor does it cost money to change. It starts with politicians who are serious not about their promises but the reality of what they can actually deliver in office.
Honour should not be a fool’s word in Irish politics. Honour matters.