When will this ever end! asks Daniel McConnell
Yesterday began with talk of progress between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the issue of Irish Water. Irish Water, as we all know, has become a dirty term in political circles, the bastard child which is an embarrassment to the family.
Fianna Fáil fought the recent election on the basis of abolishing it and scrapping water charges for five years. Fine Gael had argued for the retention of a slimmed down Irish Water and committed to keeping water charges.
Billed as the main issue of disagreement between the sides, we were greeted to news on our radios as we awoke that some progress had been made.
We were told there was a proposal for Irish Water to change from a commercial utility to a state agency.
On the charging model, we heard the two sides discussed a Fine Gael proposal to provide assistance to those on lower incomes with the introduction of a household utility payment which would offset the charges.
The discussion moved towards the introduction of a generous usage allowance with all users only paying for the water they used above that limit.
In glorious sunshine, as people began arriving in Leinster House for what was being billed as “D-Day 2”, it was clear all was not as clear cut as previously thought.
Fianna Fáil people were quick to pour cold water on the progress, insisting nothing was agreed.
But something weird happened. The two negotiating teams were not high tailing it down to Trinity College, but rather loitering around the Dáil.
It quickly emerged that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin were holding a crisis face-to-face meeting
as the negotiating teams failed to agree a breakthrough on Irish Water.
The two rivals, who do not get on to say the least, met in a bid to resolve thestandoff which threatened to end government formation talks and force a second election.
The meeting, described as tense and terse, failed to resolve the matter but the leaders eventually cleared their teams to meet again yesterday evening in a sundrenched Trinity College.
This lead many to think that the earlier row was manufactured to give the impression of brinkmanship.
On his way in, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are keen to compromise — but admitted that Irish Water remains a major issue.
“Well, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, to use the usual formula,” he said. “But it’s down to about five or six net points, I would think — and Irish Water obviously is one of them.”
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted the parties were trying to come up with acceptable principles around Irish Water, but more work had to be done.
For their part Fianna Fáil were putting a brave face on it and talking up the promise of compromise.
Barry Cowen said the parties will have to tread slowly and Irish Water remained an issue.
Michael McGrath said: “The art of any negotiation is compromise. If everyone takes an absolutist position on every issue then you never agree anything. ”
But behind the scenes, one Fianna Fáil TD spoke of his concern as to the hardline personnel from his side in the talks. “Look at the bodies in the room for us. They are hardliners who will be fierce slow to give an inch on anything. This is a long way from being done,” he said.
The talks broke up for the evening shortly before 7pm with a commitment to meet again.
Elsewhere, the Labour Party finally ruled itself out of going into power. The chairman of the parliamentary party, Willie Penrose, said the party did not get a mandate to re-enter government.
The Rural Alliance appears to be in chassis with the Healy-Raes divided on what they will do. Danny Continuity Healy-Rae is not for doing a deal, while Micheal Real Healy-Rae is game for it.
While Mattie McGrath is out, private votes within the rural alliance suggested three of the five are ready to support Enda Kenny.
Come on lads get on with it, we all cry.
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