Is it an oasis, or a mirage? After 55 days lost in the post-election political desert, with seemingly no hope of rescue, for a brief period yesterday, TDs, senators and their handlers believed that at long last a government-forming deal is imminent.
After 55 days lost in the post-election political desert, with seemingly no hope of rescue, for a brief period yesterday, TDs, senators and their handlers believed that at long last a government-forming deal is imminent.
As the first rays of summer beat down outside, within the Leinster House confines, there was only one issue on everyone’s increasingly parched lips.
Or more specifically, Irish Water, a deal on which appeared in the early afternoon to finally be glimmering tantalisingly close on the horizon.
Amid talk from Fine Gael that an agreement was set to happen, Fianna Fáil’s TDs were put on notice at their weekly parliamentary party meeting that they may need to attend a second meeting on Saturday, Monday or Tuesday to sign off on a long-awaited deal.
The same message was repeated to Fine Gael’s own parliamentary party meeting, before acting Finance Minister Michael Noonan told reporters as he attended the Trinity College negotiation talks that a “game-changer” moment had arrived.
Like a person lost in a desert for eight weeks who is gasping for water, the growing rumours an agreement could finally be reached within days — further added to by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney — was like an oasis suddenly appearing in the near distance.
But just like in that tropical scene, as the Irish public tentatively approached the image last night it quickly became apparent the progress was just a mirage.
Despite hope earlier in the day, water was barely discussed in yesterday’s talks, with the issue parked until today when “technical” matters will be examined.
And in a further stumbling block, it became apparent last night that Mr Noonan’s “game-changer” claim has angered Fianna Fáil to such an extent it is insistent the country is nowhere near any deal on the utility.
As the oasis in the political desert that is currently Dáil Éireann dissolved before people’s eyes, Fianna Fáil were last night demanding water charges must be suspended for the entire duration of the next Dáil — an issue that has effectively thrown the debate right back to the depths of February.
Fine Gael was likewise holding firm, saying it may allow suspension for a shorter period of time before it introduces a new waivers and allowances system for people struggling to pay the fees.
While both sides were clearly spinning their own version of a mirage in the strongly worded messages, along the sidelines hints a fresh deal could yet save the negotiations were also being suggested.
Fianna Fáil will not allow a short-term suspension of water charges instead of a longer term arrangement because it doesn’t want to announce the deal and face voters holding their bills.
But, if Fine Gael is willing to swallow a complete suspension of water charges until the next election — whenever that will be — Micheál Martin’s party, one senior aide stressed, may be able to similarly agree a written deal to allow the next government to sit for three budgets.
In other words, a plan that would offer both apparently warring sides enough wiggle room to save face.
For some in opposition, the apparent last ditch attempt to resolve the issue is a little too convenient, with the hard left opposition yesterday warning the now-daily public drama is a trick, and that talks are being ‘dragged out’ to allow both parties to slowly bring their grassroots with them.
55 days after wandering into the political desert, you could forgive some people for wanting to believe such a mirage is true.
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