Sunday 17 December 2017

Water charges confusion will embolden protesters

Eamon Delaney

Eamon Delaney

Just when the Government had pulled the fat out of the fire on Irish water they used yesterday's deadline for registration to sow more confusion and give a sense of leniency which will be seized upon by the opposition and by the marchers who came out last weekend. Admittedly, they were out in lesser numbers, but in their thousands nevertheless. Remember: well over half a million people have yet to register.

And yet it had been going so well. The Government had ditched the idea of collecting PPS numbers and abandoned the immediate meter charges to go for a flat charge. Thousands had been registering, and the declining water protests had become discredited by the actions of hard-line provocateurs. Middle Ireland seemed to have accepted the Government's compromise. Crucially, a disastrous issue, which had the capacity to derail the entire Government, had finally been sorted, and recent poll ratings showed an improvement for the two Government parties, with the focus back on the recovering economy and on growing job creation. Much of the credit for this must go to Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, who took hold of the matter and cleared up the mess created by Fine Gael.

And then yesterday's water registration day rolls around and the Government turns it into confusion day. The day began with a car-crash interview on 'Morning Ireland' with Senator Lorraine Higgins, who was clearly not in possession of the full facts and who alluded to possible penalties for non-registration, but she couldn't say what they were. Pressed to clarify, she just ran the clock down with phrases about "added costs" and future legislation. By lunchtime, Minister Kelly confirmed there would be no penalties for non-registration, but only for eventual non-payment, and even then after a number of bills were missed, and even then only with added fines of about €50. It all sounded like a big let-off. Kelly also confirmed that, in contrast to gas and electricity, no one will have their water cut off for non-payment.

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