A win for Labour, but at what cost?
Published 03/05/2014 | 02:30
FOR more than two weeks, the beleaguered Labour Party has sought to dig its feet in on water charges and last night secured, it seems, a mini victory.
Many have dismissed this two-week inter-Government row as mere optics, which have more to do with electoral advantage than sound national policymaking.
Given what is at stake, and how rushed the entire Irish Water project has been, Labour's slowing of the pace has been justified. Getting the water charges balance wrong is not an option. But was scrapping the standing charge the right issue to go to war on?
No doubt its elimination will give Labour council candidates something to sell on doorsteps in areas where they have become pariahs. No right-minded individual can approve of the disgusting abuse visited upon Labour candidate Martina Genockey, but the junior Coalition party has become the target for public anger.
But is it a good idea?
Warnings voiced last night about the effects of scrapping the standing charge suggested that middle-class families are to bear the brunt once again.
Concerns have also been voiced about what this means for Irish Water. This move will make it more difficult for it to raise money on international markets – and to quickly fix the woefully inept network.
Politically, one can understand why Labour needs a win like this. However, the misfortune now surrounding the party has largely been of its own making.
Having been the country's most popular leader in opposition, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has performed poorly since assuming office and has failed to stamp his authority on his ill-disciplined party. His deputy leader Joan Burton has persistently made his life difficult, several of the party's senators regularly defy the party whip without recrimination, and then Phil Prendergast goes unpunished for calling for his head.
This Fine Gael climbdown may aid Labour's flagging fortunes, but the jury is still out on whether their intervention is truly in the best interests of the country.