By Patrick Brogan
Back in November last year, I started compiling pie charts on what people were tweeting with #ge2016. I probably have a bit too much free time on my hands, I know. I was interested in what people on social media felt were important issues and how this differed from the main-stream media. It was hardly a fool proof method of discovering what may be contentious issues come election time, but it was interesting to see what normal people thought none-the-less.
As to be suspected, certain reoccurring issues kept coming up. The HSE and health, the housing situation and education. What Twitter pointed to as well as these issues was the level of anger towards the political establishment. Politicians’ wages and expenses were issues that people felt compelled to comment on everyday in this period. Irish Water was part of this and it has become a more complicated issue since the initial protests. It has become a matter of corruption too in the eyes of many because of the involvement of Denis O’ Brien.
An Election Issue?
It could be easy to dismiss the tweets as the ramblings of a small group of disgruntled people, but the fact that they used #ge2016 suggests that when they go to the polls they will have Irish Water in mind. When we consider the number of people who have protested in Ireland on this very issue, it would be wise for all politicians to sit up and take notice, especially those in the current Government. The coverage of the protests has been interesting to say the least. The last protest on 23rd January had an estimated 20,000 people in Dublin City alone. Now, that is a major reduction from some of the other protests that have gone before as the media keeps reminding us, but consider this; What other issues have brought that many people out onto the streets? In my 30 years of living in Dublin, there has been nothing even remotely close to the scale of these consistent protests. At the start of January, Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly claimed that water charges were off the agenda. Well there is thousands that would completely disagree. Either he is not aware of this and is in for a big shock come the spring, or he is aware and trying to play it down.
On 1st November 2014, an estimated 100,000 people protested in the capital. RTE, the state broadcaster, initially told us that there was less than 30,000. Compare this to the BBC who said there may have been as many as 300,000. Why would RTE downplay the scale of the protests? There had been a number of protests building up to this that were not mentioned RTE, an organisation that is paid through the Television License money of ordinary people, amongst other revenue streams. Again, why downplay this issue?
Then, of course, we have the Denis O’ Brien angle. It is clear why INM didn’t cover the Irish Water protests, because DO’B is heavily invested in both. This brings up the question, should a business man be allowed own so much of the media? No, is the answer. They cannot be trusted to let their publications report on issues that may harm their business interests. O’ Brien is tied up with GMC/Sierra, who install the meters, IBRC, the bank bailed out with Irish taxpayers’ money and then turned around and gave O’ Brien a ‘favorable’ loan, and INM, a media outlet who repeatedly bend the news to suit their business interests. This man then sought out numerous injunctions so people could not talk about any of this. What does it say about the state of journalism in this country when this man is also the biggest media mogul?
In short, Irish Water has come to represent everything most people hate about Irish politics today. It has been a PR disaster from the start. The charges are unfair because we already pay €1.2 billion for water in this country as Simon Coveney has already stated. This is just money to give European banks. It’s as simple and unfair as that. And then add in Denis O’ Brien and his repeated dodgy dealings and it is not hard to see why this will be a huge topic come the General Election, despite what the powers that be try to tell you.