Fianna Fáil may pull support for government over water charges

The party says it will block the election of a new Fine Gael Taoiseach if the government does not accept water committee report

Fianna Fáil may pull support for government over water charges

File photo: Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen, 07-04-2016. Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews

The prospect of new general election has once again raised its head as the latest row over water charges escalates.

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

The party’s spokesperson on housing, Barry Cowen sent an email to members of the larger parliamentary party over the weekend setting out the position.

On Yates on Sunday this morning, Deputy Cowen said the email had “simply reiterated” what is already contained in the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with Fine Gael that is keeping the minority government in place.

He said the agreement obliges the government to honour and to seek to bring about legislation to give effect to the wishes of the Dáil.

He said that if the government gave a “clear indication” that they will not legislate based on the committee’s report - should it be accepted by a Dáil majority - then there would be “no point in us hanging around waiting for a leader to be elected by Fine Gael.”

“They must oblige and honour the Dáil which represents the people in its efforts to bring about a credible solution to this problem so as to allow us to get it off the table and get the dead cat off the rug and deal with housing and deal with Brexit and deal with the issues in relation to regional development - because that is what we were elected to do,” he said.

Legal issues

The latest row comes after the Oireachtas water committee delayed its final report last week in order to get another legal opinion on its recommendations.

In its current form, the final report would scrap charges, refund existing bills, and end domestic meter installation.

It makes only passing mention of penalties or levies for wilfully wasting water.

Fine Gael has claimed that Ireland will face massive EU fines if some form of charge for excessive usage is not introduced.

Fianna Fáil on the other hand is pushing for people who waste water to be pursued through the courts and fined instead.

The report is due to be debated in the Dáil next week.

European fines

The Housing Minister Simon Coveney wrote to the committee last week warning members that there are three elements of the current report that will leave Ireland on a collision course with Europe.

  • He said that if only “wilful” wasters are punished – the state would be required to prove the motives of each household.
  • He said a flat-rate penalty leaves no incentive for water wasters to cut back.
  • He argued that a lack of mandatory metering for new builds will make it hard to identify wastage.

Deputy Cowen accused Minister Coveney and others within Fine Gael of “posturing” over the water issue in their efforts to become Fine Gael leader after the Taoiseach steps down.

Enda Kenny has previously stated his intention not to lead the party into the next election – with a leadership battle expected to commence in the coming months.

“Simon Coveney writing to the committee was unprecedented,” he said. “I think it was interference.”

“There has to be good will on the part of the government to commit to provide the legislation rather than to leave it hanging in the air.

Bonus culture

The escalation of the row comes as the Sunday Independent revealed that staff at Irish Water were paid out significant bonuses as recently as last month.

According to the paper the “performance related payment” bonuses have been paid to all 675 workers at the semi-state body.

The payments amount to €3.2m in total – or an average of €5,000 per staff member.

The paper revealed that lucrative health insurance policies, car allowances and specially funded fitness instructors are also among the perks available to staff.

€22,328 has been spent on specialist fitness lessons – which are said to be mandatory to comply with “health and safety regulations.”

Irish Water had suspended its bonus scheme in 2014, following a public backlash.

Right2Water protest

Separately crowds of people joined in a protest against water charges in Dublin City Centre.

Campaigners called for a referendum to guarantee public ownership of water services - as is already included in the Oireachtas committee recommendations.

They urged the government to accept the committee recommendations and abolish water charges definitively. 

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald joins yesterday's Right2Water protest 08-04-2017. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

Dame Street was closed for a time and a number of opposition parties - including Sinn Féin and People Before Profit - were represented.