It is abundantly clear that the extent of the water charges backlash has caused the Government to panic to such an extent that it was prepared to offer almost anything to the electorate to quell the protests and let it get on with business.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly did just that in the Dáil yesterday, announcing a package of sweeteners that he and his Cabinet colleagues hope will get them out of trouble. The measures had already been leaked by Government sources to take the political temperature.
Households that register will get a 100 Water Conservation Grant each year, which will see charges capped for a single adult household at 60 and for others at 160.
The capped charges will be in place until the beginning of 2019 with legislation to allow for capped charges to continue after then. Households with either water or sewage services only will pay 50% of those charges.
The controversial PPS numbers will not be required for registration and Irish Water will delete any numbers it has already received.
The measures he announced seem modest, to say the least, and will mean that Irish households will have to pay less than most EU citizens for water and sewerage services.
It is likely that had such arrangements been put before the public earlier this year, they would have elicited mild grumblings but none of the passionate and widespread protests that we have seen over the past few months.
Even as the matter was being debated in the Dáil, around 60 water charge protesters were engaged in a standoff with water meter contractors in Donaghmede in Dublin.
That shows how out of touch this administration has been for the past year or more. While the Taoiseach and Finance Minister Michael Noonan, in particular, have been stalwarts in defending Ireland’s position at EU level and in negotiations with the IMF, they lost the run of themselves when it came to those who put them in power in the first place.
Was this arrogance or blind stupidity? Perhaps it was a combination of both.
It seems astonishing that it is only at this late stage that the Government should realise that there is only so much austerity that the Irish people can take.
In many ways, the Irish Water charges is the least of it, considering the tax increases we have suffered over the past five years. It is a wonder that the universal social charge should not have brought people out on the streets, as it is a far less fair tax than paying for water.
Perhaps the latest protests have little or nothing to do with water but merely indicate that this new charge was the last straw.
Many political commentators on the Continent have looked on in amazement at the stoicism of the Irish people as they faced tax rise after tax rise. The citizens of other EU countries would not have been as compliant.
Perhaps the Taoiseach and his cabinet need to spend more time in Bandon than in Brussels to realise that there is only so much the Irish electorate can take.
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