Miriam Lord: Out of the hot tub and into the fire

A Cork South Central charity dinner might be a chance to pour oil on troubled waters

 

Earlier this year, before things turned poisonous between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, we reported on an outbreak of generous collegiality between the two most senior politicians in Cork South Central, one of the toughest electoral battlegrounds in the country.

At a fundraising dinner before Christmas, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Minister for Housing Simon Coveney found themselves up for sale in a charity auction, after Martin impulsively offered their company on a night out as one of the lots.

When it looked like the event in aid of Marymount Hospice might just fall short of its hoped-for target and the auctioneer called for more items to sell, Micheál shouted “dinner for four in Leinster House with me and Simon”.

After a hotly contested bidding war, entrepreneurs Linda and Dan Kiely, who run the hugely successful outsourcing company Voxpro, won the day with a decisive €2,500 offer.

Simon Coveney, who hadn’t expected to be put up for sale, happily consented to cohost the occasion with his constituency rival.

The dinner is happening this Wednesday. Linda and Dan are off to claim their grub and their hosts.

It should be an interesting occasion, given the almighty row raging between FF and FG over what the parties agreed or didn’t agree during the deliberations of the Oireachtas committee on water charges.

Blaming

As the week wore on, Minister for Water Coveney, who is not a member of the committee, and Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, began exchanging tit-for-tat messages and statements and publicly blaming each other for the breakdown of what both presumed had been a mutual agreement on the final report.

Groups from both parties sallied forth to the plinth with indignant accounts of why they felt let down. Cowen expressed himself bewildered and baffled by Fine Gael’s sudden decision to get all high and mighty about charging people for excessive use of water above an agreed allowance.

Hadn’t Coveney tweeted last weekend, before the final meetings to rubberstamp the committee’s report, that he was very happy with what was agreed? Why the big change from his team?

Barry was unhappy, Fianna Fáil was unhappy and Micheál was unhappy.

This is not good, because the Soldiers of Destiny are keeping Enda Kenny’s Government in power by providing minority support underwritten by a confidence and supply agreement.

If Fine Gael refuses to implement the recommendations of the committee, that could be grounds for nullifying the agreement and calling an election.

It must have really hurt Barry to have to insinuate that threat on more than one occasion, even if he hid it well.

Fine Gael was livid.

Yes, they said. Simon was happy with what they agreed with Fianna Fáil on the water issue. But what happened after the weekend was something entirely different. Barry Cowen and his team suddenly changed track. He pulled the rug out from under Fine Gael.

Tense stand-off

By Thursday in the Dáil, with Leo Varadkar standing in at Leaders’ Questions, a tense stand-off had developed between the parties.

Potential next leader Leo, with potential next leader Simon sitting next to him, attacked Fianna Fáil for caving in to the demands of the Right2Water politicians, because the party was “terrified” of losing ground to the “hard left”.

Varadkar said his Government couldn’t legislate on foot of recommendations in breach of the EU Water Framework Directive – which Fianna Fáil signed up to in the first place.

As Varadkar reminded the party how it agreed with the Greens in 2010 – nothing to do with austerity or the troika – to introduce water charges, FF TDs protested loudly.

“Isn’t it remarkable how you’re shouted down the minute you say something that people don’t want to hear,” said the Minister. “Because as we all know, the truth hurts and this one hurts really bad.”

Fianna Fáil TDs felt it was a low blow when Leo declared the “party of Lemass, once proud to stand up for things” was reduced to framing its policy on water out of fear of Sinn Féin and Paul Murphy of the Anti-Austerity Alliance.

Varadkar struck a nerve.

Now a familiar mantra is ringing out again in Leinster House.

“Nobody wants a general election.”

That’s what they all say when things start to fall apart.

A colleague bumped into Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan at midday on Thursday and told him he had just moved into his constituency.

Yesterday morning, he got a letter in the post from O’Callaghan (Oireachtas stamp and all) reminding him to register for the election.

Big Jim is either very fast out of the traps or he knows something the rest of us don’t.

The general view as a chaotic week closed was that matters will calm down and the two parties will reach an uneasy accommodation.

Perhaps that might happen over dinner on Wednesday when Micheál and Simon host their guests from Cork.

For the sake of stable government, we can only hope that not only the water, but also the repartee, will be sparkling.

Aylward and co take leave of Dáil for Bangladeshi gathering

There was a big oratorical hole in the Dáil this week.

Bobby Aylward was missing.

However, Kildare Street’s loss was south Asia’s gain. Aylward, Fianna Fail’s junior spokesman for farming and skills, was in Bangladesh representing Irish parliamentarians at a major international conference.

He was not alone. Bobby had three senators to keep him company, along with two Oireachtas civil servants and Ireland’s man in the subcontinent, Ambassador Brian McElduff.

The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Fianna Fail’s Denis O’Donovan, led the Irish delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) assembly in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

The IPU is a global organisation of national parliaments that “works to safeguard peace and drives positive democratic change through political dialogue and concrete action”.

More than 650 parliamentarians from 132 countries met to “make concrete proposals” on a range of issues “from ending rising inequality to promoting women’s access to financing”.

The five-day conference – the 136th assembly of the IPU – began last Saturday, finished on Wednesday and the Irish contingent returned home on Thursday.

Senators Catherine Noone (FG) and Alice Mary Higgins (Civil Engagement Group) completed the line-up for the travelling political quartet.

Noone tweeted a selfie of the four as they waited in the auditorium for the Cathaoirleach to address the gathering.

She said he spoke “on equality and Ireland’s efforts internationally on poverty and equality”.

During their visit, the group visited a number of projects run by Irish aid agencies in the Bangladeshi capital.

No doubt both Houses will receive a full report from them in due course.

Aldi’s 795-litre hot tubs go on sale day after Right2Water march

German retail giant Aldi couldn’t have chosen a better weekend to put its hot tub on sale. It’s going to be tropic outside by all accounts.

There was a lot of discussion on various radio shows yesterday about the discount inflatable “Spa Pool”, which is selling at €399.99 and is, according to newspaper reports, “expected to sell out within minutes”.

Aldi’s PR people sent out a press release yesterday trumpeting the arrival in Ireland of “the hotly anticipated” four-person hot tub, which is “this season’s most coveted back garden item!”

The “budget Jacuzzis” sold out in hours in the UK when they were released online on Thursday, and the Sun reported yesterday that a mere handful of the “budget Jacuzzis” will be stocked in each store when they hit the aisles tomorrow.

After a turbulent week in Leinster House, which saw Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil at loggerheads over water charges and raised questions about the future stability of the Government, and on the day after a big Right2Water march in Dublin, the sight of people queuing outside stores all over the country in the hope of getting their hands on a cheap hot tub would be most ironic.

The spa pools have a 795-litre capacity.

Now, would filling one of these babies be classed as “normal”, “excessive”, “wilful” or “abusive” usage of water?

No point asking the Oireachtas committee on water charges for the answer now. They’ve discussed this question and it doesn’t matter how you fill your pool.

It doesn’t matter a damn, because unless you are one of those many voters not connected to an urban mains system and have always had to pay through the nose for the supply and maintenance of domestic water, there won’t be any charge for enjoying a refreshing plunge.

The provision and upkeep of all the water cascading into your new spa will be paid for through general taxation.

In the light of this, it would be good manners to invite the water-conscious neighbours or rural cousins over for a relaxing wallow.

After all, they’ll be paying for your spa experience too.

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