Stephen Collins, the Political Editor of the Irish Times, has a peculiar front page article today about an opinion poll, which is presented as saying that “nearly 80% will pay water charge”. This is fairly unadulterated propaganda to push people into paying the water charges – serving the interests of the political establishment for which Collins writes opinion pieces so slavishly every weekend.
The opinion poll itself obviously has a fairly major flaw in it. For example, it finds that “51 per cent of people said they had paid, 12 per cent said they were exempt from paying, 37 per cent had not paid.” If you exempt those not liable, that works out as a payment rate of 58%. Whereas we know, because Irish Water told us, that the payment rate at the end of the first bill was only 43%. So clearly, the poll has a problem to start with and they should have thought twice about basing an article on it – nevermind a screaming frontpage headline about 80% to pay.
Even more serious, however, is a line in the article which says the following: “information released by Irish Water earlier this month which showed that at the end of the second billing cycle at least 775,000 homes had paid their bills, giving a compliance rate of exactly 51 per cent.” This is simply, 100% inaccurate.
Irish Water has released no such information. It is the repetition of a false claim which has been debunked, and which Stephen Collins, as the Political Editor of the so-called ‘paper of record’ should know has been debunked.
The 51% payment figure is based on a story originally printed in the Irish Times written by Fiach Kelly, based on a phone conversation he had with Irish Water. I spoke to Fiach Kelly about it, to establish the source and raised some questions about it. Subsequently, another journalist sent me a statement from Irish Water, which made clear that they were not standing over the claim of 51% payment.
In fact, what Irish Water was claiming is that 100,000 new customers paid a bill for the first time during the second billing cycle. I think that is certainly possible – given the level of bullying and intimidation. Then journalists have added 100,000 to 675,000 (the number who didn’t pay the first bill) and got to 775,000.
But they have left out a very important part of the calculation – how many people paid the first bill but have passed the pay-by-date for the second bill and haven’t paid it? I.e. how much should be subtracted from the figure of 775,000? Based on anecdotal evidence, that is likely to be a high figure – there are a lot of people who have decided not to throw good money after bad. If it was higher than 100,000, then the payment levels would be falling to less than 43%.
Instead of demanding that key information from Irish Water, what we have instead by Stephen Collins is dressing up their figures to make it look as if there is a momentum towards payment when there is no evidence of any such thing.