Water committee deadlocked over one word

Fine Gael and Sinn Féin cannot agree what to call payments

Water committee deadlocked over one word

Sinn Fein TD Eóin O Bróin at Leinster House as he speaks to the media | Image: RollingNews.ie

A new row between members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services means we are no closer to finding out about household bills.

Fine Gael and Sinn Féin cannot agree what to call payments for excessive use.

Fine Gael want them referred to as 'charges', but Sinn Féin are against the term.

It comes after Fine Gael abandoned a meeting of the committee on Tuesday, after losing in a series of votes.

The party was defeated 14-6 in a vote to have the water system funded through general taxation.

The committee met at lunchtime and was due to gather again later. But the six members from Fine Gael made themselves unavailable.

It is believed the party wants to take time to consider the votes which will be reflected in final report.

Fine Gael's Alan Farrell told Newstalk Breakfast yesterday was "a very unfortunate day".

"What I certainly expected to occur was a robust, but somewhat predicable debate on the completion of the report.

"Regrettably however, the direction in which the committee was going was changed quite significantly; and the very specific and probably most important element of what it is that we're trying to achieve - which is compliance and the Water Framework Directive and a political solution to the issue - was thrown out of the window."

Water Framework Directive

Asked what that all meant, Mr Farrell said: "We have a five page document...the thrust of which had been agreed last week in regards to excessive, willful, abnormal, above average - whatever you want to call it - usage of water, 170% or 1.7 times a rate of normality, would be charged for in regards to those who abuse or use far too much water above the norm.

"The proposal was tabled by Eoin O'Broin to remove the word 'normal' - that was supported by Fianna Fáil - we fought quite vociferously to retain the word on he basis that we believe its a fundamental principal of the Water Framework Directive."

He says any failure to comply with the Water Framework Directive could result in "large and unnecessary fines" on the Irish people upward of €100m.

The EU Water Framework Directive is a piece of environmental legislation, aimed at improving our water environment.

It requires governments to take a new approach to managing their waters - and applies to rivers, lakes, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters.

"No economic sense"

Also speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin said any attempt to label water funding as 'charges' would be a 'Trojan Horse' for more later on.

"We've argued consistently...that domestic water services should be funded through general taxation - that's what we proposed yesterday and that's what was voted on.

"There are those on the committee who want some kind of water charge - Alan (Farrell) is obviously talking about a charge for excessive use.

"But of course the fear many of us have - not alone with the high cost putting place and pursuing such a charge - but also whether or not such a charge would be a Trojan horse for universal water charges across the board.

"What Fine Gael are proposing - and people need to be very clear about this - is they want a charge, a metered charge on water usage above a certain level.

"To do that the way in which they're outlining you would need to have meters in every household - that will cost you at least €300m.

"You would need to have an annual billing regime which would cost, if not millions, tens of millions of euros to pursue each year - and it would generate a tiny amount of revenue and we know that from Irish Water's own figures.

"So the first thing is it makes no economic sense, that's money that should be put into fixing the pipes and the public system if you're serious about reducing wastage.

"The second thing is we are firmly of the view...that that would be a Trojan Horse for the introduction of universal water charges, which we're against".

The committee is due to publish its final report on April 14th.