There are many issues exercising the minds of citizens in this part of the island at this time. Today, Wednesday, the government will hand €1.25 billion of taxpayers money over what are called unsecured, unguaranteed bondholders. These are people who bought bonds in Anglo-Irish bank when the boom times were booming on the basis if it all went belly up there was no moral or legal obligation for them to be paid back.
They are financial gamblers on the world economic market.
The Fine Gael and Labour government are insisting that they must be paid. The deference being shown attached to these bondholders by the government contrasts sharply with its attitude to citizens. It is also at odds with what it said was its attitude before last year’s general election.
One year ago, in January of last year, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticising the then Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Brian Cowen, said: ‘If the Taoiseach’s government knew Anglo Irish Bank was insolvent and he asked the Irish taxpayers to bail it out and to pay the cost we are now paying for it, that was and is economic treason.”
If it was treason for Cowen why is it not treason for Kenny and Gilmore? They know that Anglo Irish is a toxic bank. They know the huge financial burden it is imposing on citizens. €4 billion was given by Fianna Fáil to Anglo in 2009; €3.1 billion was given last year; and €3.1 billion will be given in March. That’s over €10 billion of taxpayers money being paid over to a criminal bank that is now dead. By 2031 the total cost will be close to €80 billion.
To put this in context. Just before Christmas the government cut huge swathes of money out of the health system. The impact of this means the loss of 3.300 jobs, the closure of up to ten public nursing homes, and the loss of half a million home help hours. Yesterday Gerry Burke, a Consultant Obstetrician in Limerick warned that the loss of 47 midwives at the Mid-Western Regional Maternity Hospital in Limerick next month may cost lives.
The money that is being given away today would have more than paid for the cuts to health.
And then there is the issue of septic tanks. Not something most readers of the Andersonstown News would be familiar with. Like urban dwellers the length of this island you are connected to a mains sewage system.
But not everyone is that lucky and before I comment further let me declare an interest in this issue in that I have a septic tank – albeit a relatively new one in Donegal.
In this state there are 1,462,296 private dwellings of which 418,033, or just over a quarter, have septic tanks. The Water Services Amendment Bill is expected to be passed by the Oireachtas tomorrow thanks to the overwhelming majority enjoyed by the coalition by Fine Gael and Labour.
The government’s legislation imposes a €50 registration fee for a mandatory inspection of septic tanks which is on top of a €100 household charge recently imposed on all households. But this is only part of the story.
There’s also the possibility of a €200 fee for follow-up inspections and should the inspections find that the tank is not up to EU standards then those 400,000 plus rural households could find themselves with a repair or replacement bill than could be anywhere between 8,000 and 15,000 euro.
Rural communities are outraged and justly so. In the last decade in the region of €3 billion was spent by the government on waste water services throughout the south. All of it went to providing urban services. What rural dwellers want to know is why is that urban households can have their sewage upgraded out of public monies but they have to pay for theirs. Is that fair?
And it’s not as if this issue sneaked up on the government. The EU directive which is at the heart of this issue came into effect in 1975 but successive governments failed to deal with it. But now it’s all rush, rush, rush, with the government trying to scare the public and brow beat the opposition parties by claiming that if it fails to pass this legislation by February 3rd the state will be liable to an initial fine of €2.7 million and €26,173 each day after that until it implements the EU directive.
This isn’t quite true. The European Commission has said that the European Court of Justice won’t make a ruling on this issue until at least the summer and maybe even later than that. So there is time for a proper debate.
Sinn Féin proposed a series of amendments to the government’s Bill. Our goal was to remove any cost to the householder by forcing the government to come forward with a fair grants system that would ensure that people in rural Ireland would not have to bear the cost for the failure of successive Governments on this issue.
If necessary the government should apply to the EU for finance which they should match to grant aid households in upgrading their septic tanks.
However, the government moved to guillotine the debate and to close down any proper discussion of this issue.
In addition the Minister for the Environment has added significantly to peoples’ worries and concerns by his failure to provide clarity for householders as to what the standards will be that will now be applied to Septic Tanks and Treatment Systems.
In my own constituency of Louth and right across rural Ireland this issue has caused genuine anger amongst people.
It is right that government protects our environment and the health and welfare of citizens. Registering septic tanks makes sense. Inspecting these tanks also makes sense. But to force rural households to bear the financial brunt of this when billions of public money – which rural taxpayers contributed to – has been spent on urban systems is not equitable.
It is not right that rural householders should be discriminated in this way.
There is now a widespread campaign against paying the registration fee and opposing the government’s plans. The passing of the Water Services Bill will not be the end of the matter.