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Water wins elusive for main parties

Inside Politics: The committee report ends the Fine Gael principle of charging for water

A water charges protest in Dublin in 2014. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The issue of water charges has dominated political proceedings for over three years, and they are showing no signs of fading from the spotlight.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael carved a majority report together, with Sinn Féin, Labour, Solidarity and the Greens opposing the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on water charges.

Many of us will spend the coming days assessing who can claim the political kudos for this deal.

Fine Gael can claim a short-term political gain by forcing Fianna Fáil to accept a deal it voted against a number of days ago.

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But the party cannot crack open the champagne. It cannot celebrate an arrangement that ends a policy it implemented and still strongly support.

Fine Gael believes in charging for water; this report ends that principle. The party should be careful to boast any form of victory.

The consequences for Fianna Fáil are somewhat troublesome. This debacle has proved the party is trying to be all things to all people. Yes, Fianna Fáil secured a commitment to end water charges for the majority of people, but the party also exposed its political weaknesses in the process.

Had the party stood by its policy at the beginning of the Oireachtas committee deliberations, it would never have landed in the bind it has found itself in.

Barry Cowen entered the process in favour of an excessive charge for householders who wasted water. But as Sinn Féin and others tugged at Fianna Fáil from the left, the party found itself in a spin.

The final report of the committee is the best deal Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could hope for.

But by engaging in a faux political row over the past 10 days, both sides played bad politics. Their decisions will have long-term consequences for the confidence-and-supply arrangement between both parties.

The election may not happen today and tomorrow . . . but, make no mistake, it is approaching sooner than we expected.