TAOISEACH Enda Kenny said he wasn’t the least bit bothered by continuing water charge protests, a number of which greeted his visit to Limerick and the wider Mid-West region this Monday.
Speaking in the Greenhills Hotel on Monday night before addressing Fine Gael members from Limerick and Clare, Mr Kenny described earlier demonstrations in Shannon and Dromoland as “perfectly legitimate”.
The largest show of force by water tax protestors was outside the Greenhills itself, where up to 200 people were monitored by around 50 uniformed gardai.
The car of Tipperary North Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan - who last week angered anti-water tax campaigners by comparing them to Islamic State terrorists - had to be escorted through the crowd by gardai as a small number of people hurled abuse.
A number of Fine Gael councillors were also heckled and party member Cian Kelly - in a tweet sent out on Monday night - described as “disgraceful” scenes in which “grassroots Fine Gael members including pensioners” were “abused and jeered” by demonstrators.
“Gardai are not needed @ “peaceful protests” to escort people to their cars,” he added.
Gardai, meanwhile, reported no significant incidents arising from the demonstration.
The Taoiseach also described as “a ridiculous notion” any suggestion he had arrived at the Greenhills early to give demonstrators the slip.
“I like to turn up on time. We have had a very good day here in the Mid-West; in Ennis and Dromoland and Shannon and now in Limerick,” he said.
“I saw three perfectly legitimate protests today. There were two young people outside the gates of Dromoland Castle. I gave them a good wave and they had their little placards with them. There were a couple of more in Shannon. And they were perfectly acceptable and normal protests.”
The Taoiseach said last week’s reduced fees regime was a sign that government had heard the voice of the people on water bills.
“We made it perfectly clear in the period leading up to and after the series of protests around the country - the legitimate protests and the democratically peaceful protests - that we would listen very carefully to what they had to say; that we would take on board what they were saying and that we would deal with those issues,” he said.
“The main issues that people had is they wanted clarity, certainty and affordability. We have dealt with those. And the contribution necessary here from a single person is €1.15 per week and for two or more adults in a house it is €3 per week. And that lasts out until 2019.
“The government,” he added, “is also putting into the legislation that the Minister for the Environment of the day - whoever he or she may be - will retain the legal authority to continue the capping of water charges so that water will always be affordable for the Irish people and, secondly, that the utility called Uisce Eireann or Irish Water will continue to be in public ownership and will be strengthened in legislation in that any government of the future with an intention of privatising Irish Water would have to go before the people in a referendum and put that to them.
“It is already law that you cannot privatise Irish Water. The shareholders are Ervia, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Environment and they are precluded by law from disposing of their shares.
“These were the issues people said they want dealt with and they have been dealt with comprehensively and fully and that certainty has been given to them,” declared Mr Kenny.