ALISON O'CONNOR: Opinion: Coalition must do more to restore faith in wake of water debacle

I’M feeling like the Government has given me a bunch of flowers and an apology, but no real explanation why they’ve made such a mess of our relationship.

In fairness the flowers don’t feel like a bouquet hastily picked up in a petrol forecourt. They’re the extravagant sort – the ones bought in a sorry, money-no-object way, to try to make it all seem better after months of nagging has turned into an all out fight. But what I was seeking was more in terms of an explanation as to why they needed to be presented in the first place, and why I won’t be deserving of a second bunch in the near future.

I’ll end my rather tortuous analogy there. I drew on it in order to explain (even to myself), that slightly empty feeling I had on Wednesday night following all the hoopla surrounding the official announcement on the new water charges regime.

The Government was right to wait for a few weeks to make this announcement. It had all the hallmarks of something that had been endlessly war gamed, and minutely examined for any further potential problems. This all happened hopelessly belatedly, but at least, in the end, it happened.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly rose to the occasion and sold the package as well as it could be sold. He does have the advantage of going into that ministry after most of the damage was done by his predecessor, but credit where it is due, he did well.

The opposition was correct to get into a snit over Minister Kelly and the majority of his senior colleagues disappearing from the Dáil Chamber immediately after the water announcement was made. However, in this instance the Government’s eagerness to share as widely as possible what they believed to be such incredibly positive news was just too big a temptation. They bolted for the door. Minister Kelly went straight to a press conference in Government Buildings, in order to try and get an instant feel for the temperature of the voters – starting with the mood of the press pack and the tone of their questions.

The thing is though that the water torture of recent months was as much a symptom as a cause of where stands the relationship the Irish public and the Government. Yes, water needed fixing and properly, but some grander gestures were called for than the ones we got on the day.

It seems a contradiction, but the more I heard on Wednesday the more, curiously, I found my respect for the Government diminishing a little further. It was a little bit like a child who’d gotten too much all at once and still acted up because what they really needed was a quality five minutes with their parents.

This all only makes sense in the context of the last seven years and how the Irish people rose to the occasion when it came to austerity – we suffered through those years of cod liver oil politics, swallowing all the while, despite the unpalatibility of the measures. The Government, and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, spoke of how much those sacrifices were appreciated, and how wonderful we were, but then turned around and rammed Irish Water and all its accompanying political madness down our throats.

That’s no way to behave in a relationship, especially where one side has been calling for sacrifice and hardship over a number of years, and the other side has been forced into delivering it.

The issues are complicated by the dog’s dinner that has been made of other issues, such as those relating to the gardaí and political cronyism, for instance. One of the many myriad of investigations going on at the moment will apparently tell us what exactly happened on the night that the then secretary general of the Department of Justice was sent to the home of the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan by the Taoiseach.

The entire episode is too tedious at this particular point to get back into in great detail, but Enda Kenny must credit people with very little intelligence if he thinks that shoving it off to an inquiry is the way to handle this matter. He’s the man who gave the order, so let him be the one to tell us just what that order involved. This is not a way to show respect in a relationship.

What I was looking for this week was something involving a little bit of imagination, something that stood out as a different and more honest approach. I wanted some direct communication from the Government, particularly the Taoiseach, acknowledging just how bloody awful this mess had become.

I wanted to have some emotional intelligence applied to the situation. I wanted to hear how lessons had been learnt and to hear some honesty on how this water issue had been allowed to spiral out of control.

Conversely, the more that was conceded on Wednesday in terms of how much less we pay for water than originally intended, and what will happen if we can’t or won’t, the more I found my respect for the Government dipping. It all smacked far too much of “Paddy politics” .

If we were to end up re-electing this crowd how would they ever introduce a new tax with any level of credibility, after what has happened this time? That will never be possible unless they accompany these particular measures with a proper explanation.

At one point on Wednesday I heard Minister Alan Kelly say: “We have been seen to have listened,” and while it’s unfair to sum up the attitude of an entire government in just one comment, it does neatly fit with the argument that it all needs to go deeper than that to have been seen to have done something.

I know it sounds twee but for starters I’d have happily taken an address to the nation from the Taoiseach, or an in-depth interview with a newspaper, or an extended slot on the SixOne News with Bryan Dobson.

I want empathy. I want acknowledgement. I want to hear him say he took his eye off the ball. I’d like Enda to tell me that this has been a very sobering experience for him and his ministers, and how once things had gotten out of control they found it almost impossible to contain.

I want to know that they’ve devoted some thought, not just to Wednesday’s announcement, but also how to bring trust back into the relationship, and how to assure me that all the sacrifice I made over the last number of years will ultimately mean something. They need to find a way that I (or anyone else) don’t seem a complete eejit if I was to tell people that I might consider voting for one, or other, of their parties in the next general election. (At the moment that seems like an incredibly tall order!)

If we simply see more of the same sort of behaviour from our governing parties as we have had for the past year it will without doubt hasten a general election.

I want empathy. I want acknowledgement. I want to hear him say he took his eye off the ball

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