No meeting of the waters between leaders

Taoiseach and Tánaiste dance around water charges issue in election push

Eamon Gilmore and  Enda Kenny in Mullingar  at the official launch of the nationwide system of Local Enterprise Offices. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny in Mullingar at the official launch of the nationwide system of Local Enterprise Offices. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 01:00

They got a lovely day for the rolling out of the Local Election Opportunities.

But things turned a bit frosty when it came to the unveiling of the Mullingar Discord.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste joined forces yesterday morning to officially launch the “LEOs” at a special reception in the headquarters of Westmeath County Council.

In a nod to the Mullingar Discord, they gave a display of watery smiles and wishy-washy replies and then gave each other a wide berth.

Many in the crowd thought the event was to mark the opening of a network of Local Enterprise Offices. But that’s hardly a new story: the Government has been banging on about them for some time.

The big election push, on the other hand, is only getting started. Yesterday’s event was a prime example of a good Local Election Opportunity for the Government leaders.

But this LEO could have been so much better for them. Their reheated message about improved State support for small businesses swirled down the plughole when it became clear the Coalition is still at odds over water charges.

As a result, conditions were far from ideal for the morning’s launch. No disrespect to Westmeath and Mullingar, but the politicians might have been better off moving proceedings down to Wicklow and the Meeting of the Waters.

It had been reported that Kenny and Gilmore would discuss their respective positions over the charges before their joint engagement yesterday morning. They met upstairs in the council offices before walking down together to the function.

Issue of water
However, while they were very happy to proceed with the official pleasantries – five speeches on job creation from Enda, Eamon, two Ministers and the council chairman – they danced around and away from questions on the issue of water.

If the Fine Gael and Labour leaders had just privately discussed it, the only conclusion to be drawn from their subsequent actions and utterances was that things didn’t go too well.

The happiest man on the podium was Richard Bruton, whose only role was to talk about enterprise. Phil Hogan – as Minister for the Environment, the other man in this affair – didn’t improve matters by smirking and making faces when the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were asked about differences between their parties on the water issue.

The best either could manage on when the matter might be settled was “in the not too distant future”. But what they had to say was telling.

Gilmore pointedly concentrated on the metering and “the ability to pay and so on” while Kenny wittered on about leaks, purity of water, the state of the nation’s pipes and the reservoir in Ballymore Eustace. Big Phil said he agreed with what both of them said and earned himself a laugh from the audience. But not from Gilmore. Kenny didn’t look best pleased either. But they didn’t have to suffer too much – their media handlers made sure of that.

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