Saturday 23 September 2017

Crisis for Kenny as Fianna Fáil rejects offer on water charges

Fianna Fáil figures suggested that Mr Kenny was willing to offer a longer suspension – but that his team of negotiators disagreed strongly with their leader. Photo: Reuters
Fianna Fáil figures suggested that Mr Kenny was willing to offer a longer suspension – but that his team of negotiators disagreed strongly with their leader. Photo: Reuters

Niall O'Connor, Kevin Doyle and John Downing

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny is fighting fire from all sides after his own TDs were left fuming by his offer to suspend water charges - and Fianna Fáil rejected the proposal outright.

The country is now on the brink of a second election after talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the future of water charges ended acrimoniously.

Fine Gael accused Fianna Fáil of trying to force another election after Micheál Martin's party refused to accept a 'compromise proposal' that would see water charges suspended for between six and nine months.

After a briefing with Mr Kenny yesterday, Fine Gael negotiators proposed that the future of water charges should be examined by an Independent Commission, during which time no household would pay any charge.

Ministers also insisted that any future charging regime would include a series of waivers and generous allowances aimed particularly at struggling households.

But Fianna Fáil rejected the proposals outright, instead demanding a suspension period of between three and five years.

The party also insisted that the findings of any commission must be debated by an all-party Oireachtas committee before charges are re-introduced.

"This is a new Dáil that is different than we've ever seen. All TDs, from whatever background, should have a say on the future of water charges," said a senior Fianna Fáil source.

But Fine Gael insisted that the establishment of a committee would only delay the outcome of the process in re-introducing charges.

A minister also confirmed that the party is not willing to go beyond nine months in relation to a suspension of charges.

Sources close to the talks confirmed that there were robust exchanges between the two negotiating teams who refused to budge on their respective positions. But after the talks at Trinity College had broken up last night, both parties accused each other of painting a false picture of events.

Fianna Fáil reacted with fury to a suggestion by acting Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney that Fianna Fáil had failed to put any counter-proposal on the table.

Meanwhile, a claim by Fianna Fáil sources that Mr Kenny had effectively lost the support of his negotiating team was branded a "lie" by a senior Fine Gael figure.

Fianna Fáil figures suggested that Mr Kenny (below) was willing to offer a longer suspension - but that his team of negotiators disagreed strongly with their leader.

The claim, described as "rubbish" by Fine Gael, has led to a major deterioration in relations between the two parties.

But one senior Fine Gael source admitted that there have been "differing views in the leadership" over the approach taken in the past 48 hours.

While talks have been informally scheduled to resume today, senior figures in both parties last night admitted that the process is close to collapse.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny's decision to offer Fianna Fáil a suspension of charges has caused uproar among his own TDs.

The level of unrest is so severe that the issue was even raised at the talks last night by Fine Gael negotiators.

Of the 20-plus TDs who spoke to the Irish Independent, all but a handful said they had deep reservations about suspending charges. Several TDs who would normally be supportive of Mr Kenny said they now believed his leadership was being seriously questioned.

Separately, other TDs spoke publicly about their deep concern over the prospect of charges being suspended.

These include the Carlow/Kilkenny TD Pat Deering, Kildare South TD Martin Heydon and Wicklow/East Carlow TD Andrew Doyle.

Irish Independent

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