The Coalition has only got itself to blame

Tánaiste Joan Burton is subjected to what must have been a frightening ordeal when her car was surrounded by water charge protesters for two hours and she was unable to leave the area in question.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny goes to a meeting of the Fine Gael faithful in a hotel in Sligo and comes out to find hundreds of water charge protesters waiting for him and attempting to block him in, even resorting to climbing on the roof of his car.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly receives a call at his office and gets a bomb threat.

We cannot condone such behaviour. It is not acceptable. However, perhaps we should not be surprised by it either.

While such behaviour is not acceptable in any environment, including what is supposed to be a functioning democracy, could it just be that this government and its immediate predecessors brought it on itself?

Could it be that the behaviour of Government with its barely disguised contempt for the Dáil and through that, for all citizens of this republic, has begun to polarise people like they have never been before?

The Government’s handling of the water charges issue and its total disregard for the Dáil, and for the Constitution, coupled with its propensity to mislead the citizens of the State as a matter of form was always going to end badly.

It was clear from the offset that Irish Water’s management was seriously lacking competence in its ability to convince the public that they should and could pay the charges and that the charges were fair and equitable.

It was never going to be an easy sell, given the raft of taxes and new charges, stealth and otherwise that we have experienced over recent years. A very safe pair of hands was necessary but was clearly not to be found.

Rather than sitting back and using its battalions of taxpayer-funded highly paid advisers to look for a way to redress the issues that had arisen, it simply stuck its proverbial head in the sand, allowed Irish Water to continue as it had been, all in the hope that it would be ‘all right on the night’.

Sooner or later that last straw had to find its way onto the proverbial camel’s back.

It all started with lobbying and then with peaceful protest.

The Government, in its stupidity and arrogance, still stuck to its guns. Its resolve was such that it would have done Maggie Thatcher and Ian Paisley proud.

As people became more and more disenchanted with the Government’s response, particularly as its card had been well and truly marked last May, there is no doubt that others saw an opportunity to sow seeds of even further discontent.

The fact that the Garda Ombudsman is reported to be already examining 16 complaints, relating to assault by gardaí and neglect of duty at protests, is testament to that.

Politicians of the left and independent Dáil members also took the opportunity to make mischief and try to gain further kudos for themselves and/or their parties.

Those efforts ranged from organising and being head and tail at protests, to creating problems in the Dáil and then arguing that the Dáil protest was because the Tánaiste failed to answer a question.

This failure to answer a question on the water charges was simply another failure to properly answer a question by a government minister. It surely wasn’t the first and probably not even the millionth.

Sinn Féin didn’t fail to take what to them was a timely opportunity.

This column is being written prior to yesterday’s’s scheduled announcement on the revised plans for Irish Water. However, leaks to date would suggest while some people will be appeased and will hope that further changes can be made in the future, the problem is just not going to go away. Siptu has already jumped on any plans to stop the bonus culture.

Reducing the charges now will simply be seen as putting off the rainy day when they will go back up. Anyway, too many folk have had a taste of a government on the run and will now try to take full advantage of its inability to govern.

We should be very afraid.

Paul Mills

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