Sunday 26 January 2020

Lise Hand: Enda tries to build a bridge as Coalition flounders

It should have been plain sailing. But instead, the Taoiseach and his cack-handed crew persisted in navigating themselves full steam ahead into the path of various tax-related icebergs. For the ship of state is all at sea now over its ham-fisted handling of the latest revenue-raising wheeze.

For hot on the heels of the Household Charge Contretemps comes the Water Meter Mess which has left the Government floundering.

For they appear to be making that unfortunate canine repast known as the dog's dinner over what should have been a straightforward enough initiative.

The notion of water metering had been well flagged in advance -- it didn't simply fall out of the sky in recent days to land suddenly upon the hapless heads of an aghast electorate.

Nor is there any arguing with the unfortunate fact that our water network is in such a state of decrepitude that over 40pc of the water carried in the leaky oul' pipes never makes it to household taps at all (in Dublin the figure is closer to 60pc).

And so all the Government had to do was unveil a carefully calculated and meticulously costed battle-plan as to how, when and where the meters would be installed, how much the tax-payer would have to fork out for the installation and what sort of charges would be imposed thereafter. Oh, and which agency was going to run this whole new show.

Basic sort of stuff, really.

Alas, instead of rolling out a co-ordinated response to these questions, it appears to be every man for himself as the scheme finds itself in unpleasantly choppy waters.

And so, after a weekend of confusing and sometimes contradictory statements from the Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Environment Minister, Enda arrived back into the Dail yesterday morning to face a deluge of questions from the opposition.

And the floodgates opened immediately. Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin bewailed the "shambolic and farcical situation" as he saw it.

"There are no detailed costings, no detail on exemptions and no details on how the Government expects to put water meters into all households by 2014 which would require an installation rate of 4,000 per day," he pointed out.

"Can the Taoiseach bring clarity to this issue this morning? How much will this water metering system cost the average householder?"

Enda broke out into a complicated tap-dance, declaring there would be "no upfront charges on anyone in respect of the provision of water and that charging for water will not begin until 2014".

The Taoiseach then went off along his well-trodden "nothing has been decided" route.

"It is daft to ask what will be the charge for water when the details of the matter have not even been discussed or worked out," he grumbled.

Enda tried to build a bridge of reason over troubled waters.

"One does not go to bed at night and leave on all the electrical appliances in the house, as people know electricity must be paid for. We can't have a position where taps could be left running endlessly," he pointed out.

"There's been much leaking from the Government in the past couple of days and weeks," Micheal sniped with accuracy.

Then it was the turn of Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald to try and flush out the Government.

"May we have a couple of straight answers from the Taoiseach?" she demanded.

"Will he tell us whether this Government is really considering the prospect of cutting off the water supply to houses in the event of a charge not being paid?"

Enda was in a pickle. If he denied that any non-payment would result in empty kettles and dry showers, then there would be little incentive for less civic-minded citizens to pay up. On the other hand, scaring pensioners is an act akin to political hari-kari.

But he decided to go with the unpopular flow.

"If a person does not pay an electricity or phone bill, the service would be cut off. Water is fundamental for life," he added.

Across the chamber a simmering Joe Higgins boiled over.

"Then fix the bloody pipes," he bellowed.

"Joe the plumber," muttered Brendan Howlin with relish.

Sayonara, free water. It'll be like the 1970s and 80s all over again, when the Irish highways will once again reverberate to the anguished roar of the Irish Mammy which inevitably rose when the whole family was halfway to Brittas Bay: "Did anyone remember to turn off the immersion"?

Sad. It would squeeze water from a stone.

Irish Independent

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