Judicial appointments row may block water charge refunds

The government is facing a legislation backlog with new laws unlikely to pass before the summer recess

Judicial appointments row may block water charge refunds

Drinking water is poured into a glass in Cologne, Germany | Image: Oliver Berg/DPA/PA Images

The dispute over the government’s proposed reform of the judicial appointments system could be set to scupper plans to issue water charge refunds in this year’s budget, according to reports.

The government is keen not to rush the contentious Judicial Appointments Commission Bill - so that every TD has a chance to speak in its debate.

That is likely to mean the bill will not be sent for committee scrutiny until next week - and that as a result it won't pass through both houses of government before the summer recess.

Last night, Fianna Fáil again accused the government of prioritising the bill to appease the Transport Minister Shane Ross, while other legislation – including water charge refunds – takes a back seat.

The Irish Independent has reported that the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has pledged to “do his utmost” to ensure refunds are provided for in the budget – however government sources have told the paper that the legislation logjam makes it unlikely the necessary laws will be in place in time.

Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Barry Cowen has called on the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to clarify whether the water charge committee pledge to “ensure no household is treated differently” will be fulfilled this year.

Committee on the Future Funding of Water Services

In Mid-April, the Dáil voted to accept the water charges committee’s report, effectively abolishing water charges.

The billing system is to be replaced with a new regime that targets households using excessive amounts of water.

Over 90% of households do not fall into this category according to estimates and - when allowances are taken into account - it is believed that the vast majority of people will not pay any water charges at all.

The new legislation, which will allow for refunds for those who already paid their bills, is currently being drawn up at the Department of Housing.

Judicial Appointments Commission Bill

The controversial judicial appointments legislation was a key priority for Independent Minister Shane Ross during government formation talks.

The Independent Alliance reportedly secured a commitment from Fine Gael to push the legislation through before the summer recess during the negotiations.

Yesterday Minister Ross launched an impassioned defence of the bill - and rejected claims that he holds a "vendetta" against the judiciary and the legal profession.

The bill, in its current form, will introduce a new appointments board – consisting of a lay-majority, with a lay-chairman - to recommend judicial candidates to government.

The legislation has faced stiff opposition from the legal profession, and even from within Fine Gael.

The Minister for Justice, Charles Flanagan is known to hold reservations over certain elements of the bill, however he has insisted it can provide “defining reform” of the system.

Yesterday Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell – a member of the Justice Committee – broke ranks with his government colleagues and said the legislation should not be passed in its current form.

He called for the bill to receive major amendments before getting the nod:

On Monday, leading judges took the unprecedented step of writing directly to the Taoiseach to outline their concerns over the bill.

It follows a press release from the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI) warning that the proposed changes to the system for judicial appointments are “seriously flawed.”

Fianna Fáil meanwhile has called the bill a “really bad piece of legislation” warning that it could have “significant consequences for democracy.”

Court of Appeal nomination

Separately, Minister Flanagan has once again defended the nomination of Máire Whelan, the former Attorney General, to the Court of Appeal.

The minister insisted that when the official body cannot supply applicants, the government has the freedom to nominate any eligible person it wants: