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Pat Rabbitte launches scathing attack on RTÉ's coverage of water charges

The Labour TD is VERY unimpressed, but the broadcaster has refuted his claims.

Updated: 22.10

FORMER MINISTER PAT Rabbitte has said RTÉ acts like a “recruiting sergeant” for the far left and Sinn Féin.

The Labour TD launched an attack on the state broadcaster this evening, saying its coverage of Irish Water “requires examination”.

Rabbitte was speaking ahead of the Technical Group motion calling for water charges to be abolished. It will be voted on in the Dáil tonight.

He said parties on the far left and Sinn Féin are “manipulating” facts about the issue.

The manner in which the far Left and Sinn Féin are exploiting the austerity fatigue of ordinary people on the water issue is disgraceful and contrary to the public interest. The fact that for over a year now their humbug and hypocrisy is being stimulated by the public service broadcaster requires examination.

Rabbitte said “mischief making for the government of the day is a time-honoured indulgence of the media and is part of a healthy democracy”. However, he added that under Section 114 of the 2009 Broadcasting Act the public service broadcaster has a duty to “educate, entertain and inform”.

‘On a knife-edge’

The Dublin South West TD asked why RTÉ hasn’t made “programmes explaining why the public water system is on a knife edge; why our rivers are being polluted; why public health is threatened and our capacity to attract industry undermined and the options available to source the enormous investment needed to make it fit for purpose”.

He said RTÉ must know that the water system is “derelict and in some places a hazard to public health”.

With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Rabbitte said RTÉ’s revelation that un-minuted meetings took place between the former environment minister Phil Hogan and the Irish Water chairperson were “earth-shattering” and “press-stopping”.

“If RTÉ were to broadcast similar exposés on every time a State company Chairperson had an un-minuted meeting with a minister – myself included – over the last 30 years, it would fill out the schedule until the end of the year.”

Rabbitte said, if he didn’t know better, he would say the “lopsided coverage of the water issue derives from a decision of the RTÉ Board to strangle Irish Water at birth”.

A spokesperson for RTÉ told the broadcaster “absolutely refutes the claims of imbalanced and biased coverage of the introduction of water charges”.

This has proved to be a contentious issue and RTÉ analysis, debate and coverage has been proportionate and objective.

: Mary Lou McDonald TD addresses delegat graph: Stephen Kilkenny / Photocall Ireland graph: Stephen Kilkenny / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald described Rabbitte’s comments as “bizarre” and “deeply troubling”.

Pied Pipers of the Anti-Austerity Alliance

The former Communications Minister warned the public that “following the Pied Pipers of the Anti-Austerity Alliance will only leave people with debts that they need not incur”.

Just as they did with the bin charges campaign, the Pied Pipers will move onto their next campaign having left homeowners with accumulating debts and the bin collection system privatised.

Rabbitte said Environment Minister Alan Kelly “has gone a long way to meet the concerns of homeowners whose living standards have been eroded since the financial crash”.

Launch of Plans to Tackle Homelessness Crisis Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

“The average [water] charge on the neighbouring island is €540 per household and Fianna Fáil had committed to a charge of €400 per household. I hope he can come up with a mechanism to enforce compliance and one that permits a distinction to be made as between those who genuinely can’t pay and those who won’t pay.”

‘Political kamikaze’

During the debate, Sinn Féin’s environment spokesperson Brian Stanley said Labour seems intent on committing “political kamikaze” by “ripping up all its election promises”.

He said the government “may lose face by stopping now” but need to “start over” on the issue of water charges.

United Left TD Joan Collins said it is “a disgrace” the Labour party is overseeing the introduction of the charges, noting: “Connolly and Larkin must be turning in their graves”.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said the charges should be scrapped, and the money being spent on running Irish Water diverted to pay for water infrastructure.

The Technical Group motion was defeated by the government (by 60 votes to 38), leading Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy to tweet the following response:

Originally published: 19.10

We now have a ‘drop dead date’ for Irish Water registration

Labour TD calls Gerry Adams ‘a sponger’ for not paying water charges

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