ALL going well, things might be far less appalling than we thought by year's end. Finance Minister Michael Noonan might only be taking €1bn, instead of the threatened €2bn, out of the economy come Budget day next October. The super-optimists suggest the clawback might even be less than that €1bn. That is the latest flickering signal of hope emanating from government circles as Labour's marathon leadership election drags on, and talks of the long-flagged cabinet re-shuffle continue to feed on the same half-rumours.
For seven years, the Irish nation has suffered with few signs of public dissent. People have fretted over their jobs, or their ability to cope with unemployment, and how they might keep their homes, as many also tried to keep in touch with children in Britain, Canada, USA and Australia, via modern technology and bargain flights.
Just one calendar month ago today, Irish people sent this Fine Gael-Labour Coalition a rocket via the ballot boxes in the local elections. That message can be summated in one word: Enough!
Astonishingly, just one month on, the Government is sending out signals that the end of austerity may finally be in sight. Every person on this island hopes this shadowy prediction is proved true.
But the reality is that we do not know what will happen between this and the end of the year. All signs are that these happy predictions are based on a small set of positive data and some positive extrapolations from these indicators.
These have been enough for Mr Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin to abandon their usual caution and talk up the prospect of far smaller spending cutbacks. But, at best, so far, both ministers' explanations have been incomplete.
We fear that these upbeat predictions are unduly based on the two government parties' political need to tell voters what they want to hear.
Let us all adopt cautious optimism as our maxim for the coming four months.
WE HAVE been saying this for some time – but it remains true for all that. The people of "Middle Ireland" will pay a reasonable price for the delivery of a consistent quality water supply at the turn of a tap. But people rightly expect a decent level of service for their money and Irish Water has a big challenge ahead of it to win public confidence. Central to this is how Irish Water manages the transition from the local councils to the central authority. Up to now the service and quality of water has been uneven – Dublin's continuity of supply is on a knife-edge and many families across the country must boil tapwater and/or pay for bottled supplies.
But in many other places the water service is good and the bulk of people trust their local council when it comes to water service.
Today, we report that several parts of the country will not have a guarantee of after-hours service to resolve water and sewerage problems. These include Galway county, Laois, South Tipperary, Leitrim, Westmeath and Wicklow – all with a combined population of almost 600,000 people, or more than one eighth of the entire population. In practice it means that if things go wrong with water and/or sewerage late on a Friday afternoon, people in certain areas would have to wait until mid-morning on the following Monday for a remedy. That is simply not good enough. It would be all too easy to tell people around the country that "the Irish Water crowd in Dublin don't know where you are – except for sending the bill". On that rock could the fledgling Irish Water perish. Specific and detailed plans must be put in place for remedying water and sewerage problems nationwide with a network of local points of contact. Failure to do less than this would entitle the people of "Middle Ireland" to question why they should pay water charges.