Subscriber Only

The compromises of the water charges committee unravel spectacularly

Inside Politics: Reporters were left by turns bemused and amused as four separate press conferences took place on the plinth at Leinster House

On this day in 1614, as you may be aware, the Native American princess Pocahontas married the English settler John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. Despite the cultural differences, their marriage was apparently a successful and happy one.

The same, alas, cannot be said of the arrangement that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael entered into 11 months ago.  There was trouble in paradise yesterday when the painfully arranged compromises of the water charges committee unravelled promptly and spectacularly.

Reporters were left by turns bemused and amused as four separate press conferences took place on the plinth at Leinster House as Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Fein sought to get their spin in first following the chaotic breakdown at the water committee. Sarah Bardon has the story and the background.

Relations appear to have completely broken down between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil; the Peace of Pocahontas may be fraying. The parties will try to overcome their difficulties today so the story will run throughout the day, and there’ll be updates aplenty on irishtimes.com.

The conventional wisdom appears to be located somewhere between the assumption that there can’t be an election on this issue, and the fact that the parties don’t seem to be able to agree on it. Much of the chaotic choreography seems to be driven by Fine Gael’s need to manage the politics of its climbdown from what was a core principle. I am not sure that this is making things any better for them.

What are we to make of all this? On RTÉ’s Late Debate last night the perennially exasperated Cormac Ó hEadhra asked his guests if the experience of Irish Water and water charges doesn’t show that Irish politics is an absolute farce.

I know it was late, but this may have been overstating things rather.

What it does show is that Irish politics is not good at doing things that are unpopular but may be necessary, or at least advisable. It shows that governments need both resolve and capacity if they are to introduce policy measures against which there is popular and determined opposition. And it shows that a level of mistrust and mutual incomprehension remains betwixt the two old civil war parties.

It also shows that we have no sense of proportion. Water charges are at this stage a question of some tens of millions annually. Yesterday, as Eoin Burke-Kennedy reports on the front of our business supplement, the exchequer returns showed that taxes undershot expectations by nearly €300 million for the first quarter of the year. Nobody paid much heed. The Budgetary Oversight committee takes up the subject today at 2pm.