Like paying to have your rubbish collected, Irish Water is another stealth charge, the genesis of which goes back to the decision to abolish household rates...
Our capacity for making a mess of things seems positively labyrinthine. Those with long memories will recall that a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, almost bankrupted the country back in 1977.
Ireland had been through four tortuous years of government under a Fine Gael/Labour coalition, led by Liam Cosgrave. Those were difficult times in Ireland, with the Troubles in Northern Ireland spilling over into the South in all sorts of different ways. In addition, there was a huge amount of industrial unrest. Strikes were commonplace, with buses, banks and the postal service all shutting down completely. Regular petrol shortages added to the drama. And a rotten cadre of pious sleeveens held sway in Dáil Éireann.
One of them was the Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave himself, who – having said nothing to his government colleagues – crossed the floor of the house to vote down a bill introduced by his own Minister for Justice, Patrick Cooney, that would have made contraception legal in Ireland. As a result, we had to wait until the 1990s to be able to buy a condom here. It was sickening.
Meanwhile, given a fig leaf by the existence of the Provos and a bunch of other even more disreputable paramilitary groups, the cops felt free to engage in all sorts of criminality: a team of crack thugs within the Gardaí were dubbed the Heavy Gang, as they went way beyond any lawful remit in their efforts to crush political dissent.
It should have been easy for Fianna Fáil to take that lot out. And yet Jack Lynch decided to buy votes with the most extraordinary election manifesto in the history of the State. Lynch promised to abolish vehicle registration tax, costing the exchequer millions. And, in an act of opportunistic political vandalism, he also abolished household rates.
The electorate fell for it and voted Fianna Fáil in with a large majority. It wasn’t long before the country was plunged into a horrendous financial crisis. A period of fierce political turmoil followed, with Charlie Haughey ousting Lynch as leader of Fianna Fáil in 1979. In 1981, the Dáil was dissolved and Haughey lost the subsequent election. Garret Fitzgerald’s incoming Fine Gael/Labour government lasted less than a year. When that coalition fell, Haughey formed a government that held power for nine months. Another election followed and Garret Fitzgerald was back...
Underlying all of this political upheaval was a fundamental conundrum. Where is the money supposed to come from, to pay for all of the services provided – however badly in many respects – by local authorities, including overseeing the planning process; building local authority houses; maintaining public parks and libraries; repairing the paths and the roads; providing public lighting; organising bin collections; and ensuring that there is clean, drinkable water for every household in the city?
All of these services had been paid for, to one degree or another, by revenue raised through rates.
This is not to say that people didn’t have a lot to complain about. The value being delivered by the State and local authorities alike was abysmal. Indolence and waste were endemic in the civil service and semi-State bodies in Ireland at the end of the 1970s. And the public were generally treated with contempt. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs, as it was known, was so badly run that people frequently had to wait for a year before they could even hope to get a phone installed. And it was more or less the same, across the complete range of public services. No one seemed to give a monkey’s.
Specifically where council workers were concerned, we were famous for scenarios where ten guys would stand around a hole in the road looking in, while one guy did the digging. The country was in a shocking mess and something needed to be done. However, getting rid of rates was not that thing...
This is not to say that rates are a panacea. They can be abused by a bullying local authority, who happily lump the cost of all their excesses and mistakes onto citizens and businesses alike. Ask anyone running a business in any of our major cities at the moment: very few people believe that they are getting value for the money they pay in rates.
But, of course, this is in part at least because Local Government has been starved of resources.
Meanwhile, we have been subjected to a demoralising, incremental introduction of stealth taxes, which amount to rates by any other name. Except that the basis for so many of them is hopelessly badly thought-out and inherently unfair.
The property tax is a case in point. It is patently stupid and unjust to base a tax on the notional market value of a property. For a start, it is not a meaningful, objective measure. What is a house really worth? The only accurate measure is what someone is willing to pay for it, if and when it is put up for sale. Otherwise the market fluctuates; personal considerations come into play, including how practical it would be for any home owner to up sticks and move on; and then there is the level of debt: if you have a mortgage of 300k on a house worth 300k, then in a doomsday scenario, the house is effectively worth nothing. But you are still required to pay tax, as if it is worth €300k to you. It is a badly flawed mechanism. But this is what our political geniuses and their advisers in the public service came up with.
And guess what? They also decided to charge us for having our bins collected. Well, the fiasco of Irish water is just another variation on the same theme.
There is no perfect system for raising the money necessary to pay for public services. There are certain core principles: those who have the most should make by far the biggest contribution; the machinery has to be fair – and has to be seen to be fair; people who are disadvantaged or out of work should be supported and protected to the greatest extent possible, whether through the social welfare system or exemptions from having to pay for services and utilities.
But broadly speaking, if you want your rubbish collected and the roads kept in good shape and clean water on tap, then a direct payment to the local authority is the simplest and most straightforward method of ensuring that these services can be provided. Rates, at least, are paid for according to an objective measure (the size of a house or apartment).
Successive governments have lacked the bottle to really get to grips with the situation. And so we end up with Irish Water.
A lot of smart people believe that we have to pay for water if we want people to value it. In many parts of the world it is a very scarce commodity. If we played our cards right then we could become a global supplier. Much of this is true: if we put the proper infrastructure in place, we could sell water to the world. However, the way in which Irish Water was introduced was indefensible on every level.
From the outset, it stank of opportunism of the worst kind. Everyone knows that the original plan was to get it ready for privatisation.
The disgraceful bonus arrangements agreed with staff, where extra would be paid for unsatisfactory performance, were out of the same mould: this was a set-up where the citizens would pay through the nose to support a new privileged elite in the style they wanted to become accustomed to.
Let’s accept that there is an argument for a national water authority. The point is that in a time of widespread penury, the onus was, and is, on the Government and everyone else involved in putting this behemoth in place to approach it in a lean, mean, efficient and effective way that would deliver water in the most economic form possible for Irish citizens. Instead what we got was the worst kind of inner circle cronyism.
That is why people are so mad: the whole thing stinks of a cosseted elite being paid fat salaries that are ripped from the pockets of the people. But there is something else too. Right now in Ireland, there is a feeling that the State is creeping inexorably into every aspect of what we do and how we live. We are citizens of a society that is obsessed with control. Surveillance is increasing. And that creeping trend has been taken to a new, more insidious level with the idea that water – which is the stuff of life – is just another pay as you go resource.
I have never wasted water. You won’t find any sprinklers where I live. Nor would I have a ten minute shower where three minutes will do. But I really find it uncomfortable being reminded every time I turn on the tap that the State is watching and counting.
In some ways, it feels like the final, bureaucratic intrusion into our private world, a slow drip form of torture, in that it gets into your head and turns you into something that you never were and never want to be: a fucking clock-watcher.
I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get over it. We all have to agree on mechanisms where we can collectively square the circle of paying for our public services. I certainly have no problem with that. But there are better and fairer ways of managing it. That’s where we need to go with this debate now...
In Hot Press, a fortnight ago, we asked a series of questions of Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Since then, things have unravelled even further for the Social Media Monopoly. So here’s another one: how can the anti-competitive status, free of any form of regulation, which has been claimed by Facebook, possibly be justified when advertising lies flourish there?Read More
Hot Press Editor Niall Stokes gives the background to the Cambridge Analytica scandal – and writes an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking what Facebook intends to do about advertising and micro-targeting in the upcoming referendum in Ireland.Read More
The Irish-American singer Thom Moore, formerly of Pumpkinhead and Midnight Well – has died. Here, Hot Press editor Niall Stokes pays tribute...Read More
It was Wednesday June 14th, 1995, when the terrible news of Rory Gallagher’s death was first phoned through to the Hot Press office. In more ways than one, it was the end of an era. On Wednesday November 8th that year, a commemoration service was held at Brompton Oratory in London. The ceremony ended with a tribute, which was delivered by Niall Stokes, editor of Hot Press. As a special remembrance of Rory, on what would have been his 70th birthday, we reproduce here the full text of that tribute.Read More
The Tánaiste Simon Coveney has intervened in the abortion debate, taking a conservative position which opposes the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee. Niall Stokes explains why he should reconsider.Read More
In the latest issue of Hot Press, editor Niall Stokes asks Simon Coveney to reconsider his position on abortion.Read More
A message from Hot Press editor, Niall Stokes, from our special Dolores O'Riordan tribute issue.Read More
Ireland were humiliated by Denmark, in the worst defeat suffered by an Irish team at home in years. The question now is: can Martin O'Neill stay on as manager?Read More
Darren Randolph was Man of the Match. But how did our other players fare last night? And what team will Martin O'Neill pick for the crunch World Cup tie on Tuesday?Read More
Storms have been afoot, with devastating consequences in parts of Ireland. Step back, however, and they illustrate the extraordinary power of the wind. So why is Ireland not a world leader in wind-generated power?Read More
Women in Ireland should be allowed to control their own fertility.Read More
The emphasis in Mental Health Week is on the well being of everyone who has to grapple with any of a variety of Mental Health issues. Indeed, at some point, that probably includes almost everyone in Irish society.Read More
It was a tough and gruelling encounter - but Ireland deserved to win the crunch World Cup tie against Wales, and to progress to the play-off stage.Read More
Over the past fortnight, a Facebook post by long-time Hot Press contributor Adrienne Murphy highlighted in the most heart-rending way the difficulties of living with a young man with severe autism...Read More
The Ireland and Leinster rugby star tells Hot Press that it is time for change.Read More
As the controversy about the Newstalk presenter refuses to die, the question needs to be asked: where does this poisonous stuff come from?Read More
When you are told that you need a Public Services Card to avail of social welfare or to renew a driving licence, it is mere semantics to claim that the cards are not compulsory…Read More
When you are told that you need a Public Services Card to avail of social welfare or to renew a driving licence, it is mere semantics to claim that the cards are not compulsory…Read More
Ireland’s World Cup hopes hinge on tonight’s do-or-die encounter with Serbia in Dublin. But as Niall Stokes writes, the paucity of tactical ideas on Saturday against Georgia – a recurring theme of O’Neill’s tenure – suggests the omens aren’t good. And if the result doesn’t go our way, it might just signal the end of his time in charge…Read More
Already one of the songs of the new century, Brendan Graham’s ‘You Raise Me Up’ has been selected as the end title track in a 30-episode epic on the man who is credited – along with his daughters – as a founding figure, in the People’s Republic of ChinaRead More
The time for hiding from the lights was over. In so many respects modern Ireland was born in 1987. And central to that was the huge artistic and commercial success of The Joshua Tree...Read More
Niall Stokes draws on his best-selling book Into The Heart: The Stories Behind The Songs Of U2 to offer a unique insight into the way in which some of the greatest songs in the history of popular music came into being.Read More
From Hot Press' 2002 Annual, Bono spoke to Niall Stokes about all matters personal and political.Read More
20 years ago, U2 came out with one of their most highly-anticipated albums, Pop. Niall Stokes met the band following its release for an in-depth interview.Read More
With the damaging impact of Brexit on the UK becoming clearer by the week, the threat of a hard border in Northern Ireland is likely to be used as a bargaining chip in Britain’s increasingly threadbare negotiating strategy.Read More
The Irish Music Rights Organisation has confirmed the appointment of the multi-award winning Irish songwriter, singer and composer Eleanor McEvoy as its new Chairperson, in succession to Keith DonaldRead More
There was what might have seemed like a dramatic development in the controversy surrounding the proposed new ownership of the National Maternity Hospital. But if all that is involved is shifting ownership from one religious interest group to another, then the issue remains as fraught as ever. By Niall StokesRead More
Once upon a time, there was a vision of a digital utopia. Instead, we now have global tech monopolies, surveillance capitalism and extraordinary levels of political manipulation. Welcome to the modern world...Read More
With the decision of Enda Kenny to step down – finally! – as leader of the party with the highest number of TDs in Leinster House, a new Taoiseach is on the way. Here’s an opportunity to check back over our Hot Press interviews with the leading candidates, to see what can be gleaned...Read More
The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly may not be as far ahead of the public as politicians are claiming. But we also need legislation to prevent the covert use, and abuse, of personal data in the context of a referendum.Read More
The controversy about the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital has invited a new focus on the charitable status of Church institutions – and the extraordinary and unwarranted financial privileges which they have enjoyed since the foundation of the State.Read More
And no, this is not another Hot Press article encouraging mass promiscuity. It is about Brexit, and the push from the far right to completely undermine democratic politics.Read More
The cover of Hot Press is a national institution, coveted by emerging musicians and established stars alike. Now, the historic covers of the magazine – signed by the cover stars, and beautifully printed on specially chosen art paper – have been gathered together for a free exhibition, in the National Photographic Archive, Dublin. Introduction by Niall Stokes…Read More
Confirmation of the fact that the remains of hundreds of babies were buried in a so called ‘Mother and Baby’ home in Tuam, Co. Galway is testament to just how sick the attitude to sexuality promulgated by the dominant Church in Ireland really was. In special edition of The Message, on International Women’s Day, Hot Press editor, Niall Stokes reflects on an issue that has provoked outrage and anger.Read More
On March 9, it will be 30 years since the release of The Joshua Tree, a record that transformed U2 into the biggest rock band in the world. In this issue of Hot Press, we look back to the genesis of the album, how it was put together and and what made it work. And ask: has it stood the test of time?Read More
Over the past week, astonishing revelations have emerged about Garda collusion in a campaign of vilification which painted the whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, as a sex offender. With the ‘Child and Family Agency’ Tusla being dragged into it, this has become a real horror story...Read More
With Steve Bannon directing operations, and aided and abetted by a bunch of power-crazed loonies, the answer is probably very far indeed. Things could get extremely nasty...Read More
There's a rocky road ahead. And we’re not talking about the one from Galway to Dublin. The good news is that Irish musicians have become far more politically involved than ever before. The bad news is that we are all facing into a particularly difficult and uncertain future. So how can we all – citizens, musicians and the media alike – deal with the political challenges ahead, from the Referendum to Repeal the 8th to the effects of Donald Trump’s presidency, knowing that we have entered the post-truth world – and that this is the backdrop against which fascism has been gaining momentum?Read More
It took the combined force of Hot Press' Editor Niall Stokes and U2 journalist extraordinaire Bill Graham to thrash it out with the four members of U2 back in 1987 to uncover the method and the magic behind their seminal album THe Joshua Tree.Read More
Speculation has been mounting about a special U2 tour that would celebrate the release of their global smash hit album The Joshua Tree, 30 years on. Well, the announcement will be made this morning...Read More
The funeral took place yesterday of Frank Murray – the man who began his career as tour manager with Thin Lizzy, and worked with Elton John and The Specials, before managing The Pogues, as well as The Frames, The Lost Brothers and more, in what was a highly distinguished career.Read More
Christmas may be coming - but in the wake of the most astonishing US Presidential election in living memory, the fear that a cadre of white supremacists may get their hands on the levers of power is growing. And it feels like uncharted territory...Read More
One of the leading lights of Irish music for the past 25 years, Glen Hansard has been chosen as the recipient of the Oscar Wilde Award for 2017 – which will be presented during Oscar week in the Los Angeles. No one is more deserving...Read More
This is 2016 and very strange and deeply disquieting things have been happening in the US and here in Ireland. It might help if we stopped singing the praises of people guilty of butchering their families, Niall Stokes said in The Message, written in that pregnant pause between the opening of the polling booths and the calculation of the result in the US election. Clearly an afterword is required…Read More
There was an Irish winner tonight, as the novel Solar Bones found favour with the judges, in an award which aims to reward genuine innovation...Read More
The decision of the Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan had some culture snobs frothing at the mouth. Even Bob doesn’t seem to know what to make of it all.Read More
It was an emotional occasion when the home-spun Irish epic was unvelied in Dublin’s Savoy Cinema last night.Read More
The World’s Greatest Rock Journalist has broken a decade-long silence to discuss his potential role in the Presidential stakes…Read More
Considerable controversy has surrounded the trail-blazing Galway restaurant – but the Michelin judges say that it’s still right up there, at the top of the game.Read More
It is just over 40 years, since Larry Mullen put the note on the noticeboard in Mount Temple Comprehensive, which led to the formation of U2. As various contributions to this special issue of Hot Press confirm, that gesture changed the world for millions of people all over the globe. But that they are still together is perhaps the band’s greatest achievement...Read More
The Hot Press Collective sends a message to the people of IrelandRead More
Hot Press alumni are among the leading attractions at the upcoming Write By The Sea festival in Kilmore QuayRead More
The Minister for Skills, Training and Innovation, John Halligan put his head above the parapet in relation to the laws on prostitution in Ireland. As it happens, he was right.Read More
Irish people have moved on in a way that is genuinely impressive. Dr. Lara Kelly’s testimony on abortion is one example. But there is a new honesty among Irish politicians too that gives cause for optimism.Read More
The family of the Mayo woman, who disappeared in December 2000, have called for an inquest into her death...Read More
Anyone who has experienced the manifest beauty and wonderful joie-de-vivre of Nice at its best will have been deeply moved at the shocking mass murder on the Promenade des Anglais July 18. But Europe must look into its own heart too, to find answers..Read More
Reports that HMV are to close down their four Irish stores have been confirmed – but news reports that the company’s new online platform will go head to head with streaming giant, Netflix, are not accurate.Read More
Details are emerging of the deal, concluded yesterday, which saw Virgin Media – owners of TV3 – buy UTV IrelandRead More
The UK referendum was won by the Leave side on the promise that Britain would take back control of its borders. Their victory will stoke far right, anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent.Read More
For a wonderful 60 minutes, it seemed that Ireland might just oust the hosts France from Euro 2016. That dream may have died as a result of errors in Lyons yesterday – but the sense that Irish football is on the rise once more is a wonderfully encouraging one. By Niall Stokes.Read More
It was an enthralling day of football at Euro 2016, with Ireland getting off to a solid start in Group E – only to be trumped by a brilliant Italian win over Belgium.Read More
Irish Water and Repealing the 8th can take a back-seat as the Euros kick-off in France. Now all we need are a few Shane Long hat-tricks to seal the deal...Read More
A year on from our historic and momentous 'Yes' vote on Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum, we look back at Niall Stokes' pre-vote message urging the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respectRead More
Religious control of schools promotes inequality, prejudice, division – and worse. It is also against the founding spirit of the Republic. It must be challenged now.Read More
Guy Clark was one of the greatest songwriters of the modern era – and in Old No.1, he made one of the most extraordinary and enduring albums of all time. By Hot Press editor, Niall StokesRead More
Prince was the latest in a long line of black artists - from Sam Cooke and Otis Redding to Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye - to push the envelope, both musically and culturally...Read More
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need to end the posturing and hammer out a deal, which will provide the country with a sustainable government.Read More
The Proclamation of 1916 was a powerful document. In recalling the momentous events of a hundred years ago, it is important not just to honour those who took part in the Rising, but- even more so- to see what we can learn in order to best shape our future...Read More
Where now for the Labour Party, after an electoral annihilation the scale of which outstripped all their worst fears?Read More
As the nation heads to the polls, it’s vital to consider not just the candidates vying for our votes, but the type of country in which we want to liveRead More
When Enya released Watermark in 1988, it WAS the beginning of one of the most remarkable chapters in the story of Irish music. With Nicky Ryan and Roma Ryan ever-present as collaborators, 80 million album sales and dozens of awards followed. Now, after a seven year hiatus, she is back with a new record, Dark Sky Island, and a determination to take the collective’s music to the world in a different way.Read More
Darkness seemed to be everywhere in 2015. It is hard to maintain any sense of hope, when barbarism is so militantly on the rise. But if we don't, we surely will be lost...Read More
The orchestrated jihadist attacks on Paris were an abomination. And the worst of the atrocities took place at a rock gig in the Bataclan, where 89 people died. So where do we go from here?Read More
As the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour finally approaches Irish shores, it's time to once again celebrate U2 - not just the best of Irish, but the greatest rock band in the world.Read More
As recently highlighted by Roopesh Panicker, it is outrageous that, in 2015, educational discrimination on the basis of religion is still the norm in Ireland.Read More
After the high of beating the World Champions, neanderthal tactics and selections by Martin O'Neill ensured that The Boys In Green could not match the Sunday heroics of our rugby team...Read More
We've come a long way since the '60s, with music, literature, movies, TV and journalism all playing their part to reduce the stigma of mental illness. But reason must still prevail if we are to continue to make strides.Read More
With Europe's response to the refugee crisis lacking in effectiveness and empathy, the threat of ISIS suggests WB Yeats' most chilling words are now perfectly fitting for these times...Read More
Amidst the shock and grief of Johnny Lyons' premature passing, we pause to give thanks to a truly unique character for the countless laughs and many golden memories he gave us. Shine on, sir...Read More
As rental prices of houses and apartments skyrocket, especially in Dublin, thousands of Irish men, women and – unforgivably – children find themselves at grave risk of homelessness. Between them, local politicians and the Government must find a solution – and fast...Read More
It is easy to vilify those who take banned substances in the pursuit of sporting glory, but some of those who would be named and shamed are far more sympathetic figures than we would like to admit...Read More
...Or Ireland at least. Blazing rows erupted and staff members had to be pried apart, but the votes are in and the 50 best Irish gigs since Hot Press's inception have been settled on.Read More
The response to the tragedy in Berkeley was powerful and moving. But it is hard to listen to celebrities claiming a special relationship with God, when there are so many victims of tragedy – and of oppression– to think about...Read More
Sunday June 14 marks the 20th anniversary of the legendary Rory Gallagher's tragic death. While the world has changed in many ways, the trail-blazing guitarist's impact is still keenly felt...Read More
It was a joy to be alive in Dublin on the day the result of the referendum was announced. But there is still some way to go in the campaign for the separation of Church and State...Read More
"We're uncompromising. We're uncompromising to a fault I think. Because sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we wind-up up blind alleys. You know. Maybe Radio Ethiopia sucks. I Don't know. Me and Patti are the only ones that like it in the world. But I don't care 'cos when we put that on we feel great." - Lenny Kaye [First Published in Hot Press Volume 2 No 7, September 1978]Read More
The referendum on same sex marriage is an opportunity for the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respect – and in doing so to show the rest of the world what these words can really mean...Read More
With Hozier, HamsandwicH, Paul Brady, Le Galaxie and Kodaline all doing well, we are witnessing a small boom in Irish music. So how can we ensure that it lifts an even greater number of Ireland’s finest into the charts?Read More
Irish people who genuinely believe in free speech need to support the scrapping of our blasphemy laws.Read More
These are turbulent times, as Sinn Fein and socialist Independents find themselves in the unprecedented situation of topping the opinion polls. However you view this, pause to be thankful that there is no hard-Right movement of significance in Ireland, and no apparent appetite for one...Read More
It was one of those special Dublin nights. The occasion was a fund-raiser for a new short film, entitled Descend, directed by Hedi Rose, and written by Irish-based Texan screenwriter Margaret Miller. The location was upstairs in The 51 Bar on Haddington Road.Read More
Check out her take on 'Dreaming'...Read More