Coalition fails to get ducks in a row before venturing on to water

Thu, Apr 19, 2012, 01:00

DÁIL SKETCH:BORD GUSH – the brand new tributary of Bord Gáis – was welcomed with a spirited display of synchronised swimming from the Opposition yesterday.

This was in marked contrast to the Government, where Ministers can’t be trusted to synchronise their watches.

It explains why the main action in Leinster House happened outside the Dáil chamber as backbenchers vented their annoyance and frustration over the Coalition’s latest fiasco during Fine Gael and Labour’s parliamentary party meetings.

What’s going on? That’s what they wanted to know.

This time the Government is going to tackle the complex question of charging for water.

On current performance you’d be afraid to let them near a paddling pool in case they all drowned. No wonder the delighted Opposition was professing worry.

Not Enda though, who is very much a devotee of the waving, not drowning, school of political optimism.

Our good-news Taoiseach left after the morning’s business to make a major jobs announcement, but the developing row over water charges overshadowed his big event. He left a fractious Dáil with a frightening remark hanging in the air.

During the Order of Business, the Fianna Fáil leader demanded time to discuss the weekend’s watery disclosures.

Enda replied: “Deputy Martin should remember there will be two years of discussion on this . . . before any bill is given to anybody.” Two years of discussion? Two whole years? How many tortured editions of Liveline will that be?

How many Dáil rows and noisy marches and column inches and expert reports and Coalition hissy fits? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Not to mention a potential waterlogging of the imminent fiscal treaty debate.

Enda remains upbeat, though. Bord Gush, promised the Taoiseach, “will lead to a whole new creation of confidence and competence in the Irish water system, not just for now but for the next 50 years”.

It was the previous three days that concerned the Opposition during Leaders’ Questions.

“Shambolic and farcical,” gurgled the Fianna Fáil leader, outlining the conflicting and confusing statements from the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and various Ministers on the issue of water meters and charges.

Micheál Martin mustn’t be able to believe his luck as the Government continues to make a mess of communicating difficult decisions to the public.

The Taoiseach boasted that at least his crowd had the “courage” to make the hard choices needed to sort out the mess left by Fianna Fáil. True, they seem well able to make formal Cabinet decisions on contentious issues. Unfortunately, once they leave the table, Ministers are wimping out with ominous regularity.

At this juncture the Department of the Environment is the worst – but not the only – offender. First the septic tank debacle, then the household charge shambles.

Given what had gone before, the least they might have done was get all their ducks in a row before venturing on to the water, but they didn’t do it. On the first day back after the Easter break, the Opposition couldn’t wait to dive in. Their aim was to give the Government a deserved ducking.

Enda huffed and puffed, clipped on a nose peg, but refused to get his toes wet.

Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald and Shane Ross took to the waves with alacrity. What will people have to pay? Will it result in people having their water cut off? Why can’t money from the Pension Reserve Fund pay for the installation?

They really wanted to have a go at Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, who is the target man for Opposition ire, but Big Phil is in Denmark. Politicians joked in the corridors about the day being like Hamlet without the prince. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” sniggered deputies.

The puns were flying as Enda protested that we can’t go on with the massive leakages from our water system.

“There’s been an awful lot of leaking from your Government in the past couple of days and weeks,” harrumphed Micheál. “Leaking right, left and centre, and leaking against each other about each other.”

Nor was Joe Higgins putting up with Enda’s leaky tap argument.

“Fix the bloody pipes!” he roared.

The Taoiseach, thanks to a sweet prompt from Brendan Howlin, immediately dubbed the Socialist Party leader “Joe the Plumber”.

Higgins, who has relinquished his speaking rights at Leaders’ Questions to Richard Boyd Barrett, has already found a new way to make himself heard. He heckled with gusto.

“The banshee of Dunquin,” taunted Jerry Buttimer. “You can’t even get your geography right,” retorted the Lispole man.

The Taoiseach was in combative form, rested after the break. He dismissed Martin’s taunts about Eamon Gilmore and Joanna Tuffy refusing to countenance water charges back in 2009.

“He could have quoted de Valera when he said we’ll drain the Shannon, many years ago . . . a lot of water under the bridge since then.” And a lot of water sloshing around the Coalition too, but they don’t seem to notice.

Later in the afternoon the Minister for Finance had some slightly good news – signs of liquidity in Nama.

But all they could think about in the Dáil was the communications mishap over the meters.

Enda’s coalition may not be able to hold its water, but he’s hoping his new tributary of Bord Gáis, Bord Gush, will have better luck.