Miriam Lord: Kenny in search of miracle to part red sea

Taoiseach faces anxious wait to see if water charge measures can restore calm

Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrives at Government Buildings yesterday morning. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrives at Government Buildings yesterday morning. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Enda Kenny is trying to do a Moses today.

He needs to part the raging reds’ sea and lead his frightened and exhausted coalition through walls of Irish Water to a better place.

The Taoiseach has left it very late: he’ll need a bit of a miracle to pull this one off.

We should know by this evening if his Government has done enough to reach a safe haven. After that their journey is just beginning.

Will the anger of a nation – fed-up and beaten down by an accumulation of costs and cuts – subside sufficiently with the introduction of a greatly reduced charging system?

Or is the blood up now, whatever they do?

A number of key protest marches are planned for the coming weeks by opponents of the water charges. Until these have taken place the Government faces an anxious wait to find out if today’s measures go far enough to restore calm and assuage the genuine worries of voters.

Promised land

Parting the Reds’ Sea of Coppinger and Daly, Murphy and Boyd Barrett is one thing, but it’s those voters who will take Enda and, perhaps, Joan Burton to the promised land of a second term.

So a lot rests on this afternoon’s unveiling in the Dáil of Water Mk ll.

As might be expected, there was a row yesterday over the timing of this much awaited announcement and the length of the debate which will happen after it.

Micheál Martin, Gerry Adams and Joe Higgins were unanimous in their view that the Government was playing fast and loose with parliamentary rules by clearing almost every item from this week’s timetable in order to discuss the new Irish Water plan.

Why, wondered the Fianna Fáil leader, does it all have to be wrapped up by 10pm tomorrow night? “There is no compelling urgency here . . . stop trying to ram things through the Dáil,” he urged the Taoiseach.

Micheál has a point. The Government rushed its original Irish Water legislation through the Dáil with such speed that the Opposition staged a walk-out.

In hindsight, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste probably wish they took their time in the first instance. It didn’t take long for problems to bubble to the surface, problems that have seriously destabilised their administration.

These issues are causing much confusion and anxiety among the public but they could have been identified and ironed out if the introduction of Irish Water had been properly examined by the parliament at the beginning.

Still, better late than never.

Again, the opposition isn’t inclined to be grateful.

When the Minister for the Environment gets to his feet at 3pm to release details of the new billing system, they’ll already know what he’s going to say.

“Sure you’ve been leaking it all week,” snorted Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary.

The very latest figures oozed out yesterday from the Government’s efficiently leaky system. Lower bills again for householders.

At this rate, when Alan Kelly delivers his speech he’ll be paying us to take the water off his hands.

But that’s people power for you. Tens of thousands of peaceful protesters out on the streets tend to have a chastening effect on even the most arrogant of administrations.

The same can’t be said of those individuals intent on subverting the sincere and legitimately held views of most people who took to the streets – many for the first time – to tell the Government they need a break.

Newly elected Socialist TD Paul Murphy was singled out during Leaders’ Questions as one of the chief suspects in this regard. Murphy was in vocal attendance when Burton was trapped for more than two hours in her car by an angry mob.

The treatment of Burton on Saturday was unacceptable, said the Taoiseach. The protesters “descended on the Tánaiste’s car like hounds after a fox – absolutely disgraceful”.

Actually, for a split second, Enda nearly went for a different simile.

“People of different political agendas descended on the Tánaiste’s car like a fl...” He almost said “like flies on...” Mercifully he changed tack.

“Deputy Murphy, you should have the courage and the gumption to apologise unreservedly to An Tánaiste for what you caused over the weekend out in Jobstown,” said the Taoiseach.

“No,” said Murphy. Then, jabbing a finger across the chamber, he shouted: “You’re upset that people are involved in politics.”

His colleague, Joe Higgins, joined in. “The Tánaiste should apologise.”

Joan Burton, whom we understand was very shaken after the incident, shook her head slowly but said nothing.

 

Incandescent

Enda, meanwhile, was incandescent on her behalf. He has been there too. He spoke “as a witness last night” to the unacceptable behaviour of some protesters at an event he attended in Sligo.

He turned to face Murphy. “You, deputy, would not like to be hemmed in by a baying mob for 2½ hours.”

Murphy wasn’t bothered in the least. In fact, he seemed quite pleased with himself.

With the rather shocking events of the weekend concentrating minds in the chamber, Mary Lou McDonald’s performance there last week was overlooked.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader graciously decided not to disrupt proceedings yesterday by staging another sit-in. She said she was thinking of the Dáil ushers who may have been called upon to forcibly eject her.

But the party is hoping to talk to the Ceann Comhairle, and if they are not happy with what he has to say to them, “Well, then, we’re into a different scenario,” said McDonald when she came out on to the plinth to announce her decision.

Back in the chamber, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan criticised the Opposition for arguing over the timing of today’s announcement.

“Clarity and certainty you’re going to get tomorrow and still you’re not happy.”

Micheál Martin smiled.

“Are you sure?”

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