Tuesday 27 September 2016

FF: 'Do deal on water or it will stay on agenda in the Dáil'

Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30

Joan Burton’s Labour favours the retention of Irish Water. Photo: Tom Burke
Joan Burton’s Labour favours the retention of Irish Water. Photo: Tom Burke

Fianna Fáil will reserve the right to repeatedly table Dáil motions on water charges unless a comprehensive deal on the issue is agreed during minority government negotiations with Fine Gael.

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Sources in both parties insist that water will not be a "make or break" issue when their negotiating teams sit down to discuss policy today - but Fianna Fáil believes it has a strong upper hand.

It will warn Fine Gael that a majority of TDs now oppose the charges, meaning that if Enda Kenny's party does not back away from billing households, the new Dáil will be debating the issue every three to four weeks.

"Fine Gael can't have a situation where this is coming up every other week throughout the lifetime of the Dáil. Something will have to be done," a source said.

The Irish Independent understands that the Fine Gael team of Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe are in a position to outline some tweaking to the operation of Irish Water. Their compromise is likely to include new waivers for the elderly and certain other categories of households, a reduced charge for everybody else and a gradual downsizing of Irish Water.

"There's nothing that can't be solved," said a senior Fine Gael strategist when asked about the gulf between the two parties yesterday.

However, the presence of the Labour Party in any minority government could complicate the situation even further as Joan Burton's TDs are strongly in favour of the retention of the utility.

"Irish Water is essential to the future infrastructure of the country and community needs," said a Labour strategist.

"Firstly we believe that Irish Water has a lot of achievements and secondly Fianna Fáil's irresponsible posturing has put jobs at risk. We'd like to see the uncertainty around this brought to an end."

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that his party has been "very clear from the beginning, before the election, during the election and after the election that it's a very important issue for us".

"It's a very important issue to a majority of TDs in the House now and obviously that will feature in the talks that have commenced," he said.

Despite being asked three times whether he would compromise on the issue or demand the full abolition of charges, Mr Martin refused to make any commitment.

"I'm not going to pre-empt the talks. I think we need to create a bit of space for those involved, but it is a very, very important issue for us," he said.

The party leader also made reference to Irish Water during his speech at Fianna Fáil's annual 1916 commemoration in Arbour Hill yesterday.

"I hope that we will shortly be able to move our politics on to a more inclusive and consensual approach.

"Within this we will continue to work for the priorities we set before the public. No one in Dáil Éireann will be able to dominate decisions - and this is a good thing.

"Many mistakes of the past, including the Irish Water fiasco, were firmly founded on the arrogance of a majority government," Mr Martin said.

"The major crises our country faces today in health, housing and many other areas developed because of the policies of the strongest and most stable majority government in recent times," he said, adding that in the new Dáil "all TDs have a right and obligation to contribute."

Irish Independent

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