There is much speculation over the results of the election, as predicted Labour have been decimated and FG have taken a heavy hit. Fine Gael who were consistently polling at about 30% for much of the past two years dramatically dropped by 5 points to 25%. What this suggests at the very least is that the public were massively displeased with the government, talk of recovery just did not gel with a huge proportion of people for whom there clearly is no real recovery being felt.
Water charges, while not the most common issue to be raised on the doors, nonetheless was a major factor, and as the parties look to cobble together some kind of functioning government the abolition of water charges will be decisive in any negotiations. Any attempt to try and rescue Irish Water and push ahead with charges will almost certainly lead to major public confrontation which will undoubtedly lead to instability within any potential coalition.
The boycott of water charges, which stands at approximately 50%, means that no matter what government comes to power they will have a major headache to contend with in this regard, they cannot forge ahead unless they are willing to start taking hundreds of thousands of people through the courts. Apart from the courts not being able to deal with that volume of cases it would be instant political suicide for any new government to even attempt it. The people have spoken and while political pundits scratch their heads trying to figure out just exactly what they have said, one thing is crystal clear, water charges in the form of a direct charge and bill is not a runner. No tax or charge has ever succeeded with such high levels of non compliance and given the message of the people in this election it looks like water charges are not going to buck that trend. Even if FG are to form a government it would be the equivalent to prodding an enraged bull to proceed with water charges. While the previous government had a super majority in the Dail which allowed them to pretty much do as they pleased and to face down public anger while hiding behind the cloak of a perceived mandate to govern, it is clear that this time around things won’t be so easy. Water charges is not the most pressing issue in our society given the health, housing and homelessness crises, but water is symbolic of a greater dissatisfaction that exists and it’s an issue that people have the ability to take a clear stand on through the boycott and the mass protests. If this election holds any message it’s that people power cannot be ignored and you do so at your peril