Government TDs privately admit that the introduction of water charges has been screwed up, but they have no idea how to put it right.
Here's a suggestion: just say that charging for water was a joke. That tactic has worked for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams over his remarks about holding a gun to the head of editors who disagree with him. Journalists across the word have demanded he withdraw any implied threat. Still Gerry stands firm, insisting that the words he spoke to Irish Americans in New York ten days ago were nothing but a giggle.
Ministers should take a leaf from Gerry's book. Snatching away medical cards from the most vulnerable patients? Honestly, guv, we were just messing. Making voters pay property tax on houses whose value has plummeted and left them neck deep in debt? Come on, people, can't you tell when your leg's being pulled? Lighten up!
In a way, it's a bit like that well known international law of public discourse which states that it doesn't matter how offensive you are, as long as you tack the words "no offence" onto the end. "Hey fatty, I hate you… no offence." See how a potentially insulting situation is defused by the clever addition of a get-out clause at the end which shows everyone that, hey, yer only 'aving a larf, aintcha?
The one drawback is that any politician using this tactic invariably ends up sounding like a navvy on a building site who shouts lewd comments at women as they walk by, then calls her frigid when she doesn't immediately swoon at their macho charm. "Come on, love, where's your sense of humour?" On the other hand, if the alternative is electoral oblivion at the next election, it's worth a go. As is just saying sorry and starting again, but what are the chances of that?