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Water charges controversy: Coalition is in danger of drowning

When will this government wake up and recognise that people are sick and tired of the Coalition’s hobnail-boot approach to the vexed issue of water charges?

There is a growing public perception that politicians are utterly out of touch with the economic realities facing thousands of families up and down the country. How easily forgotten it is that their comfortable pay, perks, and pensions come from the pockets of bruised and battered taxpayers.

Not a single politician in the land has any concept of what it means to go to bed hungry. More than words can tell, the past weekend was a powerful display of this. Even the organisers were surprised by the turnout in teeming rain in more than 100 cities, towns and villages across the country. People power has finally confronted the administration’s heavy-handed line of attack.

Most protesters had no political axe to grind or left-wing ideology to promulgate. Indeed, many would agree that a public utility has to be paid for. Following incessant demands for money to bail out the banks and pay off the troika, the water charges have infuriated people, especially with the country awash with water. For seven years they have endured more than their share of hardship in the form of punitive taxes ranging from the property tax to the particularly crude mechanism of universal social insurance, an extra tax payable on your gross income. Water charges have become a lightning rod. People have simply run out of patience.

Throughout this debacle, the Government has singularly failed to communicate the rationale behind a charge which has little to do with conservation or the environment. From the outset, the Coalition botched the transfer from local authorities to the highly unpopular Irish Water element of the Ervia quango, which includes Bord Gáis.

Several ministers and TDs have openly admitted the exercise has been a disaster. Yet, apart from giving vague promises that things would be put right within weeks, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is determined to plough ahead regardless of protests. Moreover, he is sticking to the ill-advised strategy of making threats, claiming the top rate of tax would have to be increased by 4% if water charges are not introduced.

It would be more in the Government’s line to get Irish Water to mend a system leaking like a sieve.

Unless the Government goes back to the drawing board, the question of water charges will inevitably be an issue on the doorstep in the next general election and could drown this administration. The Taoiseach’s show of determination will not move the argument on one whit. If anything it will make protesters even more entrenched. Pressure is mounting on the Coalition to come up with meaningful and realistic proposals, plus hard data on what people will have to pay, so that the rationale behind the charges are properly teased out and fully understood. Otherwise, notwithstanding Michael Noonan’s characteristically glib prediction that it will soon evaporate, this controversy promises to run and run.

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