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Crunch time on water will be when bills start to land

The empire strikes back. Alan Kelly's revised water charge scheme is a full-blooded attempt to dampen down public anger and get middle Ireland back on side.

It may take several months before we know whether or not the new plan has worked - but at least nobody can accuse the Environment Minister of not trying.

Kelly's list of concessions is embarrassingly long. The charge itself has been slashed to €60 for a single-adult household and €160 for everyone else, among the cheapest in Europe and a fraction of what most people had originally feared.

These figures are capped until January 2019, when the issue will probably be some other government's problem.

Irish Water's first bills have been pushed back to April, a small relief for anyone worried about another charge arriving immediately after Christmas. Privatisation is legally forbidden without a plebiscite and there will be be special arrangements for those who genuinely cannot afford to pay.

Irish Water itself has finally had some manners put on it. The much hated super-quango is no longer allowed to demand PPS numbers and cannot pay staff bonuses for last year or 2014.

A new 'people's forum' will be set up to address customer concerns, although how that might work in practice is anyone's guess.

tough

In short, Irish Water Part Two is a sequel that promises to be a lot better than the original. Alan Kelly (left), who received two death threats this week, is already showing himself to be just as tough as his predecessor Phil Hogan.

He put in a typically aggressive Dail performance yesterday.

Sadly, he then went and spoiled it all by walking out before the opposition speeches - provoking uproar in the chamber and making a mockery of his earlier claim that the coalition is listening to its critics.

So will Kelly's plan be a game-changer? Since the government has made so many climbdowns, the anti water-charge campaign would be entitled to claim a moral victory and walk away.

Instead, Right2Water are setting the bar much higher - they want Irish Water drowned at birth.

From now on, this will be a numbers game. The first big question is how many protesters Right2Water can attract for their next major demonstration outside Leinster House on December 10.

Organisers must also know that if there is even a hint of thuggery at the event, their largely moderate membership may start to drift away for good.

However, the crunch moment will not arrive until mid-2015, after the bills start to land in April. Right2Water are pinning all their hopes on a mass boycott of the charge, hoping that 100,000 hold-outs would be too much for the courts to handle.

If they are right the Government will be plunged into a life-threatening crisis with little choice but to call an early general election.

Right now, however, Fine Gael and Labour believe that Right2Water are losing the run of themselves.

Ever since the disgraceful scenes in Jobstown last Saturday, the movement has been split over whether or not to say sorry for the violent treatment of Joan Burton.

disasters

Paul Murphy has actually claimed that trapping the deputy prime minister in her car for two hours would be "peaceful" - which must make even some of his colleagues wonder if the guy is for real.

Ultimately, it is the bill-payers of Ireland who now hold Irish Water's fate in their hands. If Alan Kelly's package had been unveiled a year ago, chances are that the issue would have long ago become yesterday's news.

Instead, ever since the company's outrageous set-up costs were revealed last January, it has been engulfed by a tidal wave of corporate cock-ups and PR disasters.

As some ugly incidents have recently shown, there are an awful lot of angry people out there - and no guarantee that even yesterday's u-turns will be enough to cool them down.

Irish Water Part Two should keep Enda Kenny's government afloat for the time being. The safety of dry land, however, still looks a frighteningly long way away.


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