Any grown-up organisation that presided over a litany of calamity like Irish Water would acknowledge its errors and admit it was time to go back to the drawing board and reimagine the entire project.
Yet, the Governmnet persists in flogging something the looks ever more like a dying horse. Not only is it encouraging those who oppose water charges, it is alienating those who recognise the legitimacy of the charge. It is losing the war on two fronts — and for no reason other than its own embarassing ineptitude.
On top of that it is, by its intransigence and inconsistency, jeopardising the legitimacy of an entirely justifiable, overdue and badly needed public project.
It takes a special talent to generate anger and distrust among those who oppose you and, at the same time, those who support you. Refusing to acknowledge that reality and refusing to contemplate a complete review of the project dosen’t border on stupidity, it epitomises it.
It is reasonable to suggest, if there is anything reasonable in this fiasco, that unless the Coalition puts its hands up and concedes that it needs to review the project, that this will be the issue that makes the difference between being returned to power or not. As soft government underbellies go, the opposition parties, and independents, couldn’t wish for more.
Several issues stand out.
Our survey of political parties today points to the deep distrust and the widespread belief, an entirely rational one, that any entity charged with providing water services should never be privatised and that that position should be copper-fastened in our Constitution, even if that means a referendum. Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s immediate dismissal of that suggestoin was so off-hand and autocratic that it did him no credit and exacerbated widespread suspicions. It is not too late to acknowledge that Mr Kenny’s first reaction was imprudent and did not reflect the public’s wishes. The government parties should, as most other parties have, promise to hold such a referndum at the first opportunity after the election — if, of course, they are re-elected. This would not be a sign of weakness, rather the very opposite.
Another is the Monty Python-esque idea that someone who refuses to pay the charges might get a conservation grant — a brown-envelope sweetner by another name.
This is not only bizarre it is deeply offensive to the 43% who have paid their charges and the 70% who have registered to do so. It’s time a powerful voice in Cabinet cried stop and — to quote a former British prime minister — said this idea is Out! Out! Out!
The Coalition planned to go to the polls showing it had manged the economic crisis with competence and encouraged the recovery — which it has — but the one-step-forward-two-steps backwards saga of Irish Water could well undermine all of that good work. This sorry affair has exposed incompetence and a spectacular failure in corporate governance. To deny this, to persist in trying to weather the storm, just exacerbates the situation. It’s time for some contrition, humility and reality — and there’s hardly a minute to lose.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved