Water crisis should force Galway to have a re-think

The lead drinking water crisis is the city’s second such crisis in a year. While we are told it is confined to specific areas, it is still a cause for concern because it has even more serious implications for public health than cryptosporidium.

This situation, though serious, must also be seen as an opportunity - a chance to re-think how we do things, and the possibility this crisis throws up as an opportunity, must be grasped.

Politics and leadership, not just in Galway, but in Ireland as a whole, seems geared to ‘keep the country tickin’ over’, nothing more. Just enough to prevent us from going south completely. It is never about actualising the full potential that exists.

Part of the problem is a resistance to ideas that I witnessed numerous times when I covered meetings in the chamber of the Galway City Council - the ‘closer to Boston than Berlin’ phenomenon. If something was being done at local or national level in the United States or Britain, Ireland felt duty bound to copy it.

If the local authorities in Chicago or Milwaukee were pursuing some idea, that was the pattern for us to follow. If it wasn’t being done there, the only option was to look to Britain and follow them.

If a council official, or Cllr Catherine Connolly or Niall Ó Brolcháin suggested we look at innovative ideas on social planning or the environment being pursued in Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Holland, or Scandinavia, the suggestions would be met with at best, puzzled incomprehension, or at worse simply ignored.

If it wasn’t happening in the Land Of The Free or the Mother Country it had no business being done in Galway! That was the attitude. Such a fixation with the Anglo-American axis considerably limited or thinking and kept us closeted off from progressive Antipodean and European thinking.

Galway’s second water crisis is not the fault of Britain and America. It is a home grown problem. The point is that these are changed times and changed times call for a new response. It’s not that we should ignore Britain or America (we can’t ) but the current situation tells us that to look so narrowly at the idea of ‘best practice abroad’ and then try and superimpose this on Galway is too narrow and too limiting.

Galway needs to think bigger, bolder, and more creatively - and yes, that includes cash strapped times. Canada, Germany, and New Zealand have interesting ideas about local government, the environment, responsible planning, and traffic management.

We should not copy them either. Instead we should make ourselves more open to their ideas as a way of becoming more open to ideas throughout Europe and the wider world - and use the best practices we discover as a catalyst to spark off our own, often untapped, creative potential that could yield productive approaches to our problems in our city.

The Irish emigrated to Argentina, Canada, Chile, and Australia, not just to Boston. Our openness to ideas and fresh thinking should have a similar broad outlook. The old models are gone. New approaches are what’s needed.


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