Enda Kenny and Irish Water will give you clarity. Real soon

For a man who has called for ‘clarity and certainty’, Enda Kenny made a poor job of it

Mick Wallace: Independent asked why Irish Water would not be responsible for dealing with pollution, flooding or storm water. Photograph: Alan Betson

Mick Wallace: Independent asked why Irish Water would not be responsible for dealing with pollution, flooding or storm water. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

When is the Tánaiste not the Tánaiste?

When she’s in the Dáil answering questions to do with her Cabinet portfolio but speaking in a personal capacity.

Which is a new one on us.

Apparently, she was wearing a different hat.

In the chamber on Tuesday, Joan Burton was “happy” to state her “view” that a household of two adults and two adult dependants will be charged under €200 for their water.

That set the Labour cat among the Fine Gael pigeons. The Coalition partners were supposed to be united in their general confusion until Joan was goaded into a solo run by constituency arch rival Joe Higgins.

He compared the leader of the Labour Party to Marie Antoinette and she saw red – always a pleasing development for a leader of the Socialist Party.

Joan’s €200 declaration came as news to her senior Government partner and the Taoiseach was forced to explain it yesterday.

Happy enough

Fine Gael is fuming.

The Opposition is delighted.

Enda set about interpreting his Tánaiste’s remarks during Leaders’ Questions. A dangerous tack to take when neither he nor his party seem to know where they are heading in this raging water calamity.

For a man whose main contribution to the continuing controversy has been to call for “clarity and certainty”, he didn’t make a good job of it.

“The Tánaiste made her remarks in a personal capacity here,” said Enda, much to the amusement of the Opposition benches.

Furthermore, he shared Joan’s view that whatever it is they are going to do, eventually, in the fullness of time, it is going to be “simple, clear and affordable”.

If they just take a good run at it, and make a number of changes, they should have a decision in the next “two weeks or so”.

The Fianna Fáil leader wasn’t so sure. “This latest episode illustrates the shambles that this has become for the Government,” said Micheál Martin, noting “nine different instances of climbdown” from the Government since they originally proposed a water charges regime.

Au contraire, countered Enda, who insisted his Government “made it perfectly clear” that they are going to do something.

And when they decide their plan of action, “it will bring clarity and restore confidence to where there has been confusion”.

His Government legislated for Irish Water 11 months ago.

Meters have been installed and are ticking away.

Nearly a full year, and still they can’t tell people what they will have to pay for their water.

Why not?

Meanwhile, precisely as the Taoiseach floundered in the chamber, Joan Burton was over in Government Buildings, proudly wearing her other hat, the one labelled “the views expressed are my own and not those of my employer”.

To some observers, it looked very like the old Joan, the one who was a past master at sweetly but stealthily rocking her former leader’s boat when he was under pressure, had returned.

“I’m confident that the Taoiseach and I are very much on the same page,” she smiled, twice, while Enda was on his feet in the chamber unhappily landed with her soggy sheet of paper.

It was the Tánaiste’s “personal hope” that, when allowances are taken into account, her figure of €200 or less will be the one.

Then, to compound matters for Enda, word had reached the Dáil of the latest development across in the Seanad: Labour Senators had voted against Fine Gael for the first time since getting into power, supporting a call for a referendum on keeping Irish Water in public hands.

Opposition leaders wasted no time in telling him. They also noted the unease of his backbenchers – Eoghan Murphy unburdened himself to this newspaper yesterday, while others were sounding off to their local radio stations.

All the Taoiseach could do was promise that everything will be sorted in a fortnight or so.

Optimistic

It’s complicated and has to do with satisfying EU funding rules. But, to a worried citizenry, fed up with never-ending charges, the only thing they see as off-balance is the Government.

A year down the line and Enda tells the Dáil: “Irish Water representatives have a very good story to tell that they have not been telling.”

United Left TD Joan Collins wondered: “What are they going to say to us?

“They should be outlining the timescale and the programme of projects in each individual area throughout the country so that the people will see and know that the investment is on its way to fix the particular problems that they have.”

They should. But they haven’t.

Then Mick Wallace raised a very interesting question about the new utility’s area of responsibility. Why won’t Irish Water be responsible for dealing with the very costly area of pollution, flooding or storm water? Why should that be left to local authorities?

He left behind an unasked question: is it because, if privatisation was mooted sometime down the line, the company wouldn’t be a profitable bet for buyers with these considerations dragging on the bottom line?

The Taoiseach didn’t address the issue.

There is a growing sense in Leinster House that this situation is spiralling out of control for the Government. They have to act quickly to impose “clarity, confidence and certainty”.

And maybe take out and metaphorically shoot a few of their highly paid consultants and advisers, who are, doubtless, regularly humbled by their wonderful work rate and achievements.

Joan Burton – this is a high-stakes game – has set down her marker. The fact that there is a billion euro in play now after the latest growth figures were released has been mentioned as a possible solution.

The next week or so will be fascinating.

But for now, it looks like the headless chickens have taken over the asylum.