Fine Gael offers Fianna Fáil concession on water

Just how much longer can Enda Kenny cling on for?

Sixty plus days since losing the general election, the acting Taoiseach grows weaker and more desperate by the day.

Now hiding away from the media, Kenny is now assuming the air of a recluse.

The mood around Leinster House swung from despair to hope and back again.

The talk on everyone’s lips was when not if the second election would happen.

My previous prediction of Friday, May 20, was mentioned, as was the following week.

Last night, it emerged that Fine Gael made a fresh concession to Fianna Fáil over Irish Water in talks between the two parties.

That revised offer would involve the retention of the utility (of importance to Fine Gael), while offering a suspension of water charges for at least two years (of importance to Fianna Fáil).

That suspension would allow an independent commission complete its work as to how a new water charges system would work.

After that it would be referred to a cross party committee before going to the Dáil for a vote.

It would also see water metering continue to be rolled out in order to provide a basis for a future allowance system to be calculated.

One got the impression yesterday that some in Fine Gael would sell their grandmother at this stage to get back into power.

Fianna Fáil for so long have been unwilling to budge from their stance that a suspension of five years was needed.

Yet, last night, senior Fianna Fáil sources gave an initial approval for the deal.

The matter will be fleshed out today as a debate on water charges will take place.

Earlier in the day, things looked bleak.

Up until lunchtime, it wasn’t clear whether the sides would meet at all, such were the negative vibes from how things ended on Monday.

That uncertainty was added to when it emerged Kenny indicated that yesterday’s Cabinet meeting would be the last.

According to sources, Mr Kenny thanked ministers for their work, and made special mention of those ministers who had lost their seat.

The embattled Taoiseach reportedly said that the toll of the recent political impasse has been “very challenging” but added ministers will be remembered for their dedication to the State.

It was Kenny’s expressions of thanks that led some of those present to believe that it was the last time they would gather as a Cabinet.

Kenny said “history will be kind” to them in their work in saving the country in 2011 and bringing it back from the economic cliff.

Ahead the talks, Finance Minister Michael Noonan acknowledged that the two parties remained at odds on the issue of suspending water charges.

He spoke as Fianna Fáil negotiator Barry Cowen said if Fine Gael did not accept his party’s will in the current talks it might accept the will of the Dáil.

The mood was not helped by a statement by Micheál Martin saying if a second election was needed then so be it. Mr Cowen made similar comments outside the chamber, speaking to reporters.

Ultimately, we will see some movement in the process today with the Dáil to debate the future of water charges, after Fianna Fáil joined the chorus of calls for such a debate.

The two big parties will also hold their parliamentary party meetings which will indicate exactly where the body of opinion is at.

There is no unanimity within Fine Gael as to how much they can concede to do a deal with the old enemy.

Nor is there unanimity within Fianna Fáil about how much they are willing to stomach in order to put Enda Kenny back in office.

Once again, Kenny’s own position was spoken about as being an impediment. Every day this drags on, he looks ever weaker, ever more desperate.

He knows that this is the last throw of the dice for him to be re-elected and hence he has been willing to bend the knee to the Independents and has now compromised again in relation to Fianna Fáil on Irish Water.

One, however, gets the sense that Kenny being re-elected Taoiseach is the overriding priority for many in Fine Gael.

So much for acting in the national interest.

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