Sinn Fein protest water meters in Dundalk, but have ensured they are installed in Newry?

So, Sinn Fein didn’t order the continuation of the installation of 35,000 water meters in new build houses in Northern Ireland at a cost of £13.3 million? Well, no. The minister’s department did refuse to allow NI Water off the hook of putting water meters as it was required to do by law.

Brian Stanley put it thus...

Sinn Féin can only do what it can do at any point in time being in the power-sharing executive, and that situation changes – that is the game of politics.

Paul Maskey put thus…

“Sinn Féin has always taken a strong stance in opposition to domestic water charges and creeping privatisation. We recognise that water is a precious resource universally recognised as a basic human right and we will continue to block any moves towards introduction of charges.”

The public record is clear enough. Sinn Fein has done everything it can to stop water charging, except changing the law to prevent it happening.

This tells us something interesting about the nature of the whole debate in the Republic, or indeed the non debate in Northern Ireland. No one can or will guarantee no water charges in future.

As Arthur Beesley noted in the Irish Times last week the water controversy is all mostly (to borrow from the MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone) b@ll*cks…

The water charge – as amended – is is not particularly large. Like all taxes, it’s hardly conducive to merriment. People who cannot pay it won’t. No one will go to prison. The bill will be added as a charge on the property, meaning any resolution will come only later. Yet, as politicians shriek and bray on the airwaves, some would have you believe the end of the world has come.

By the start of next year, the Government and its predecessor will have executed €29.8 billion in tax increases and spending cutbacks since 2008. The €270 million to be raised from water is tiny by comparison, even if the battle over the charge merely serves as a lightning rod for other pressures and a lever for some peoples’ political ambitions.

Water meters don’t necessarily lead to privatisation. However they do incentivise citizens to ration a resource in an ageing system that desperately needs investment. It is also part of a transparency programme being pushed under an EU directive which is unlikely to go away, you know.

Both Sinn Fein and the DUP know this (despite their public opposition to water charges). Brian Stanley and Paul Maskey know this too. What they also know (or they should) is that the water charge level in the south is tokenistic. In England water bills for a small family are in the range of £5o pcm.

The irony is that whilst in Dundalk Sinn Fein councillors protest the installation of water meters, just up the road in Newry meters are going in partly at the diktat of a former Sinn Fein Minister…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty