Water committee told to reconsider metering decision

Paul Murphy suggested it marked a '180 degree turn' on previous legal advice

Water committee told to reconsider metering decision

Photo: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

The Dáil committee on water has been told to reconsider its decision to exclude water meters in new builds.

Fresh legal advice sought by Fine Gael suggests that if the measure is not changed then the European Commission will not acknowledge Ireland's efforts to comply with the Water Framework Directive.

The two-page legal opinion from Senior Counsel David Nolan does acknowledge that many of the changes made by the water committee last week do not cause issue for compliance with EU law.

The legal advice does recommend changes around the wording for wastage, excess use or wilful abuse.

Mr Nolan suggests wording for three paragraphs in the water report which he says would persuade the European Commission that Ireland is abiding by its EU obligations.

The biggest change necessary on this legal advice, however, relates to meters.

Last week the committee decided to abandon a recommendation for meters to be installed in all new builds and refurbishments.

This legal advice says without some reference to meters needing to be installed, the European Commission will not acknowledge Ireland's efforts to comply with the Water Framework Directive.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy suggested it marked a '180 degree turn' on previous legal advice.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin accused the Government of "bully-boy tactics" and of trying to "sabotage" the water committee.

Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "Like all bullies Taoiseach, you cannot accept when you have lost - and indeed you are now trying to bully your friends in Fianna Fáil into a U-turn".

Enda Kenny insisted that the water committee was entitled to complete its work.

He told deputies that the committee was due to hear from legal counsel this afternoon, adding he did not yet have a finished report from the Oireachtas committee.

Meeting

The Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services has been meeting today in a bid to sign off on its recommendations to abolish water charges and allow refunds for customers.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and his party colleagues want the Government to bring in legislation to enact the report.

However Fine Gael - including the minister responsible for water, Simon Coveney - insists that the committee findings represent a breach of European Union law.

Previously, Minister Coveney said he would have to wait and see: "I do have real concerns about the changes that have been made that, in my view, seem to fundamentally undermine the viability and the legality of what they're recommending.

"Let's wait and see if that is the final outcome of the committee - if it is, well then we have to deal with the issues that flow from that."

File photo of Simon Coveney. Image: RollingNews.ie

Election on the horizon?

Fianna Fáil has threatened to block the election of a new Fine Gael Taoiseach unless the Government agrees to legislate on the recommendations.

The party's spokesperson on housing, Barry Cowen said on Sunday if the Government gave a "clear indication" that they will not legislate based on the committee's report then there would be "no point in us hanging around waiting for a leader to be elected by Fine Gael."

This could raise the prospect of new general election, as Fianna Fáil say failure to abide by the committee recommendations would breach the confidence and supply agreement it has with Fine Gael.

Appendix 2 of the agreement reads: "The Government will facilitate the passage of legislation (whether it be a money bill or otherwise) for the implementation of the recommendations in relation to domestic water charging supported by the Oireachtas".

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin says Fine Gael has previously committed to legislate for whatever the committee proposes.

"Today the Water Committee will meet hopefully for the final time, we have a full draft report and there's a clear majority of the committee who have indicated they're willing to support it.

"So what Sinn Féin would like to see is, irrespective of the difficulties between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the committee meets, votes on the report and then the report goes to the Dáil for full debate on Wednesday and Thursday".