Thursday 19 October 2017

Fianna Fáil accused of hypocrisy over Irish Water attack

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Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Fianna Fáil has attempted to deflect all blame for the introduction of water charges - despite previously considering proposals to slap households with bills of around €500.

Party leader Micheál Martin yesterday claimed Irish Water was entirely a Fine Gael plan and that Fianna Fáil will scrap water charges for the next five years if in Government.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr Martin said the next Government must go back to the "drawing board" and abolish charges until the water system is fixed.

The Cork South Central TD said the current coalition made "13 u-turns" since setting up Irish Water.

Asked by broadcaster Séan O'Rourke whether water charges should be forgotten, Mr Martin replied:

"During the lifetime of the next government yes."

But Mr Martin and his party were quickly labelled hypocrites and accused of performing a complete u-turn on the issue.

Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney said that Mr Martin was a member of the last Cabinet which considered introducing charges of up to €500 per household.

Unpopular

"When people decide they don't like Irish Water, because they have been unpopular, Fianna Fail decide to move with the tide again and make all sorts of promises. And in their numbers again, they are ignoring the fact Irish Water will achieve €1.6bn of efficiencies between now and the end of 2021," Mr Coveney told reporters.

"The last week, unfortunately there is going to be arguments because we feel the need to expose the false promises and populist politics of Fianna Fáil. We cannot go back there. How many times do we have to learn that lesson," he added.

Senior party figures backed Mr Martin's insistence that they never cleared a memorandum brought before their Government in October 2010, weeks before the arrival of the Troika

Fianna Fáil senator Thomas Byrne said the memorandum was brought by Environment Minister and Green Party leader, John Gormley.

"There was no decision whatsoever made on that memorandum and memorandums are produced for Cabinet all the time," Senator Byrne told reporters.

Senator Byrne backed what his party leader earlier told RTE's Seán O'Rourke - that Irish Water, which is now a "complete debacle" - was entirely a Fine Gael plan.

Mr Byrne said Fianna Fáil had reproduced on their Facebook and Twitter pages a video of Fine Gael's Simon Coveney announcing the planned creation of Irish Water back in June 2009. "This was their grand plan, essentially, ultimately to privatise the water system," Mr Byrne said.

"We made no decision whatever in relation to any water utility. That never came up in Cabinet," he continued.

Asked again about why a memorandum was brought at all in October 2010, if it was intended to be ignored, he insisted that such things happened all the time.

"John Gormley brought that memorandum. He was not a member of Fiannna Fáil. John Gormley brought that memorandum - and it went nowhere," Mr Byrne said.

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Fianna Fáil and the Green Party had planned water charges just a fortnight before the EU-ECB-IMF Troika arrived in Ireland in November 2010.

Government documents released under Freedom of Information last autumn showed that a figure of €500 per household per year was suggested and that many members of both parties supported the move.

Water charges were agreed in principle when the two parties re-negotiated their Programme for Government in October 2009. Green Party leader and Environment Minister, John Gormley, formally tabled a memo to Government a year later in early November 2010.

The measure was broadly welcomed but a formal decision held off on because of problems about Mr Gormley's insistence on a referendum to copperfasten State ownership of water resources into the future. The plan included a small-scale National Water Authority employing 25 people with a €4m yearly budget - much less elaborate than Irish Water established by the current Government.

Irish Independent

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