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It's not about water Enda, it's a lot more serious than that

"It's not about water, is it?"

Enda Kenny's remarks as protesters heckled him outside the Mansion House on Sunday were cryptic, but in one sense he was absolutely right.

The water charges controversy is rapidly developing into an acid test of his leadership and tomorrow will be his very last chance to go back to the well.

After weeks of intensive negotiations, the Government is finally set to unveil a new payment regime for Irish Water.

This will be a two-tier system with families charged a net €178 and single people asked to cough up just €76, much lower than originally expected.

Most importantly from the point of view of Kenny (below), these figures will be capped for at least three years, beyond the next general election.

Other concessions may also be on the cards. It is expected that Irish Water will no longer be allowed to ask parents for their children's PPS numbers.

The nuclear option of asking Revenue to collect the money has also apparently been ruled out, since ministers want to try an 'all carrot, no stick' approach first.

In other words, the Government is about to make a massive climbdown. This new system will provide no incentive whatsoever to conserve water, which was supposedly the whole point of charging for it in the first place.

damage

Lower payments will also leave an embarrassing hole in Michael Noonan's accounts.

From Kenny's point of view, all that is a small price to pay. The Taoiseach just desperately wants to get this issue off the front pages, since he knows all too well the damage it has done to his popularity.

On election night in 2011, Enda declared, "Paddy likes to know what the story is". Now he is hoping that a bit of clarity will be enough to get Paddy back on side.

Unfortunately for Kenny, his leaky coalition may already have taken on too much H2O to stay afloat. Irish Water has been generating negative headlines for almost twelve months now, leading to a visceral public anger that is hardly going to disappear overnight.

Some people are so fed up that they would rather burn the money than hand it over to the company - while others will reluctantly pay up but take their revenge in the ballot box as soon as possible.

From a PR point of view, the Government has at least started the week pretty well. Most anti-water charge campaigners will have been disturbed by the ugly scenes from Jobstown on Saturday afternoon, when Joan Burton was struck by a water balloon and trapped in her car.

Ever since then, Paul Murphy and his comrades have been busy digging a hole for themselves by insisting that this was a "peaceful protest".

In reality, the mood on the streets seems to getting more and more nasty. Yesterday a caller to the constituency office of Environment Minister Alan Kelly told a young mother, "We'll bomb you f***ers".

In west Cork, two council vans were burned out by some moron who apparently mistook them for water meter vehicles.

To put it politely, it looks as if the anti-water tax campaign has a lunatic fringe. If the behaviour of some of the mob last Saturday is anything to go by, then next time somebody could be seriously injured or even worse.

cocky

Most of the 150,000 people who marched peacefully on November 1 want nothing to do with violence.

All that said, Enda Kenny cannot afford to get too cocky over the bad behaviour of some protesters.

The water charges battle will not be decided in the Dail or on any public protest. It will be decided over the kitchen tables of Ireland next January - when Irish Water's first bills arrive and customers must choose whether or not to pay them.

So why did Kenny say, "It's not about water, is it?".

Perhaps because he knows that a mass boycott of Irish Water would not only destroy that company but shatter his own credibility as well.

This is a fight that he absolutely has to win - and after the new payment regime is announced on Wednesday, there will be no more cards up his sleeve.

Enda Kenny has spent 1,350 days in the Taoiseach's office. Tomorrow might just be the most important one of all.


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