Opinion: Is Irish politics dead in the water?

Opinion: Is Irish politics dead in the water?

IN THE END 2014 was all about water.

Kerry won the football, Kilkenny won the hurling, the President went to Britain, Roy Keane got a headline every time he walked in to a room, the summer wouldn't end and the Government kept telling us the recession was over even as people checked their pockets and failed to see any change.

But in the end it was all about the water.

In fact it was so much about the water that let’s see what 2015 brings. Let’s see if the water doesn’t yet wash away Enda Kenny and co.

I can think of quite a few Government fiascos over the years — the e-voting machines that cost a small fortune and were shelved, millions spent on a prison site that was never built and remains to this day a field — but the water charges of 2014 are in a league of their own.

It is hard to stress just how badly the Government has mismanaged this whole thing throughout the year and even now, even as 2014 closes and thousands have yet again taken to the streets to oppose the water charges the Government continues to get it wrong.

So the day after the latest march, a Government minister on a visit to Peru talked about the global need to conserve water and the environmental challenges facing the whole planet. That is all true and is a long overdue message. But that has nothing to do with Irish water.

Irish water charges have been seen by virtually the entire Irish population for what they are — a way for the government to raise revenue. That is, Irish water charges are simply a form of taxation and they have nothing whatsoever to do with conservation or the environment.

The handling of Irish water in 2014 also signifies something that Ireland shares with quite a few other European democracies and that is that politics itself is now deeply discredited.

The rise of Sinn Féin is probably the main story of the political parties but beyond this story lies the fact that Irish politics is now becoming increasingly dominated by independents.

Now apart from the many qualities of these independents what this also means is that after the financial collapse the main Irish political parties have lost their credibility.

Fianna Fáil for obvious reasons, for mismanaging a boom they didn’t understand and then mismanaging a bust they didn’t understand either.

Fine Gael and Labour for berating Fianna Fáil throughout it, promising to do things differently and then with an overwhelming majority taking power and doing exactly what Fianna Fáil would have done anyway.

It is said that all political careers end in failure but it sometimes seems now as if politics itself is failing. And that is Ireland in 2014.

Which is actually a bit odd. Now I’m no fan of this Government, of a supine, treacherous Labour Party where Joan Burton has revelled in power without principle or a right-wing Fine Gael that is in spirit akin to the British Conservatives. But when you compare them to the previous lot it is hard not to believe that they are actually reaping the diminishment of politics that was sown by Bertie Ahern and friends.

This Government, for instance, is regularly accused of arrogance but if you compare them with Charlie McCreevy or Michael McDowell they’re like shrinking violets.

Enda Kenny is seen as a shallow actor but compared to Bertie Ahern? Joan Burton has let power truly diminish her but compared to Mary Harney?

Now to benefit from those comparisons is no great achievement but it does suggest something.

It suggests that the malaise is with politics itself, with the political parties that have shaped this state for its entire history. And now 2014 is ending is their time ending too?

But in the end. This has been the year of the water.

Even now as the year ends, Fine Gael Minister Leo Varadkar says that he cannot understand why people are so unwilling to pay a small water charge, which shows only that he just doesn’t understand the issue at all.

This isn’t about how much. This is about there being just one more charge. And about it being for water. So just as politics itself is discredited the politicians carry on showing why 2014 is the year of the water charges.

And, sorry, this one could run and run yet.