Miriam Lord: Enda plays modest role amid flood of outrage

Taoiseach says he supports his Minister’s proposals for water charges, calling them a ‘modest contribution’

A modest contribution? That’s what the Taoiseach kept talking about yesterday.

You don’t get many of those in the Dáil.

But Enda wasn’t suggesting a shake-up of what passes for parliamentary discourse in the chamber, where brevity and humility is too often a stranger. He was referring to what householders will be billed for their water. “A modest contribution.” He liked the phrase so much he repeated it a few times.

“€1.15 or €3 per week depending on the number of persons in the household,” he said, by way of explaining that government legislation will ensure “full compliance with the law in respect of the modest contribution that is involved”.

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Although this will only apply to those who can pay, but won’t pay.

“For those in difficulties, there are always opportunities to give assistance, as has applied to schemes over the years.”

Richard Boyd Barrett was all ears. "What schemes are those?" he wondered.

Improving the water system costs money, pointed out the Taoiseach for the umpteenth time.

This cut no ice across the floor. Particularly for members of Sinn Féin and the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Enda’s “modest contribution” sounded about as acceptable to them as Swift’s Modest Proposal.

After another weekend of water-related stories and protest marches, Gerry Adams dived straight in at Leaders' Questions.

“The Government has claimed for months that the anti-water charges campaign is on its last legs, but the huge turnout of citizens at the Right2Water rally in this city last Saturday gives the lie to those claims,” said the Sinn Féin leader, who is very gung-ho on the non-payment issue since his party’s conversion on the road to the Dublin South-West byelection.

‘Toxic quango’

“Contrary to the Government’s assertions, citizens are more determined than ever on this issue. They have told the Government they cannot and will not pay its water charge and that Irish Water is a toxic quango that should be abolished.”

“And now the Minister for the Environment is threatening to dock people’s wages or social welfare payments if they don’t pay up. Does the Taoiseach support him in this? And how will the authorities distinguish between those who cannot pay the water charge and those who simply won’t pay it?”

Labour's Eric Byrne saw one likely suspect to start them off. "Who won't pay? You won't pay," he snorted to Adams.

Enda said he fully supports his Minister and will be right behind him when he eventually takes his measures to Cabinet.

The Sinn Féin leader wasn’t getting much information from the Taoiseach, save for the urgent need to improve the water pipes and his Government’s decision to keep the contribution modest. But how, wondered Gerry again, is the Government going to distinguish between those who can’t pay and those who won’t? Eric Byrne explained once more.

“People like you who are on the public record as saying they will not pay. And you’re one of them – you’re a sponger.”

Support, of sorts, came for Gerry from an unlikely source: Fine Gael TD for Meath Ray Butler. "In fairness, he was going to pay and he changed his mind."

But there was still more for Adams to ask. If Irish Water were a river, it would have more tributaries than the Nile. Another embarrassing issue for the utility emerged with reports that crucial meetings between the then minister, Phil Hogan and executives from Bord Gáis, when the company was being set up, were not minuted. All legal and above board, said the Taoiseach, as Gerry shook his head and water drummed noisily on the dome of the Dáil chamber.

In a sign which must have cheered the anti-water charges people, it was bucketing down. But they are not a united group. It was interesting to see members of the Anti-Austerity Alliance joining in the heckling of Gerry Adams as he went to bat on the water issue.

While his party is now very strong in the water protest movement, the Taoiseach won’t let Sinn Féin forget their stance in the beginning.

“As the Deputy is well aware, a few months ago he was very much in support of making his payments because he realised the importance of good, clean water but he listened to the populist drum and changed his tack.”

And Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy, Joan Collins and Richard Boyd Barret et al smiled along with Enda. But then, there is a lot of jockeying for position going on in Leinster House at the moment.

It’s to do with the forthcoming general election and the race to back a winning political horse. This has brought us a new breed in the Dáil: the TD-boppers.

Wannabe TDbopper

Shane Ross is a wannabe TD-bopper. So are

Lucinda Creighton

and Richard Boyd Barrett. Leinster House is full of them. TD-boppers cross the ideological divide. They are the Balance of Power People – Opposition TDs eyeing up the election and trying to work out how to get into government, or engineer a situation where they can loftily refuse to participate.

In the current Dáil, Tánaiste Joan Burton is the Big Bopper. Her Labour Party holds the balance of power. But other groupings are forming and lining up to take Labour's place, whether that be in a left, right, centre or whatever we're having ourselves coalition.

TD-Boppers: lusting after the chance to join the soldiers of the legion of the mudguard.