Miriam Lord: Whose turn is it to take out the bins this time?

First Simon Coveney had the dirty job, but now it’s been dumped on Denis Naughten

Heather Humphreys must be a relieved woman today.

There is no department of the environment any more. Like Gaul, or the Godfather trilogy, it is a thing of three parts. So good, they made it thrice.

People were very confused last month when Enda announced his new cabinet. With no minister for the environment, who, for example, was going to be in charge of water? Or rubbish, for that matter? Nobody knew, that first night.

In time, it emerged that Simon Coveney, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, was stuck with the water problem.


Denis Naughten, who also shelters under the environment umbrella with his communications, climate change and natural resources brief, must have been relieved when he wasn't stuck with water.

Heather Humphreys’ Department for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht makes up the third leg of Enda’s environment stool. She will have been similarly thankful that the water problem didn’t flow her way.

Then a new controversy over service charges erupts. This time, it’s to do with bin collections. Quick as a flash – they’ve had years of practice – those politicians who co-ordinated the anti-water charges protests began stockpiling outraged householders in preparation for their latest round of mass demonstrations.

The imminent introduction of a new system of payment for domestic waste services sailed over the new Government’s head. When questions were asked in the Dáil about the pay-by-weight system and Opposition deputies began querying whether it would end up costing hard-pressed householders a lot more money, it was Simon Coveney who provided all the written answers and the answers on the floor of the chamber.

Not a peep out of Heather or Denis.

Bins crisis

In the last couple of weeks, the concerns over rubbish collection threatened to spill over into a full-blown bins crisis. And Government TDs were all too aware that this would not go well for them if this happened.

Enter Simon, again: Mr Reasonable, who was going to sort it all out. He was on radio and television morning, noon and night, soothing worried householders. No need to worry, he would make sure they wouldn’t be landed with hefty bills.

There was no surprise when waste topped the bill at Leaders’ Questions yesterday. But Enda had good news: the proactive Coveney had negotiated over the weekend with the waste collection companies and they had agreed on a 12-month price freeze on all charges.

In the meantime, explained the Taoiseach, the people of Ireland would "learn how to manage" their "behaviour" when it comes to acting all free and easy with rubbish.

The Fianna Fáil leader was interested in a few remarks made recently by the former minister Alan Kelly. He expressed the view that the new Government was "caught on the hop" by the waste companies who decided to take a particular approach to the new pay-by-waste regulations. He had lots of points to make about waste management, many of which the Taoiseach agreed with.

“I think it’s a valid thing to look at the structure and the way that waste management is actually dealt with. That’s an issue that needs to be looked at,” he said.

And he said, without a blink or a pause: “And it’ll be Minister Naughten who’ll be dealing with this now and will be happy to examine it from here on.”

Beg pardon, Taoiseach?

What was that? Who was that?

Micheál was a bit taken aback too.

“Taoiseach, did you say that the hot potato has been handed to Minister Naughten? You very seamlessly put in there.”

True enough.

“Yes, it transfers across, yes,” said Enda, matter-of-factly.

“That’s a surprise,” remarked Micheál, sounding confused.

“Oh no, that’s already in the transfer of responsibilities,” came the reply.

“I would have thought Minister Coveney was handling this proactively for the past week or two but, just, you slipped in lovely there that it’s going to be Minister Naughten’s baby now.”

We were all a bit confused.

But not the Taoiseach. “Housing, planning and local government and obviously energy and . . .” he mumbled, voice trailing off.

Hopping mad

But the Micheál, trying to sound like he was hopping mad over the charges, was concerned over Kelly’s comment. “Deputy Kelly said you were caught hopping. I am trying to find out in between the two how you were caught hopping. Perhaps Deputy Kelly might illustrate to us in greater detail how something he introduced apparently caught everybody hopping. It caught the companies, householders and his own Government hopping.”

Gerry Adams didn't want to leave all the knockabout to Micheál.

After the Taoiseach answered his first question the Sinn Féin leader said: “Well, with all due respects, that was a rubbish answer.”

There was a ripple of laughter. Enda didn’t crack a smile.

Denis Naughten, meanwhile, has been handed a rubbish pass from Coveney. Still, Heather must be pleased it wasn’t her.