Friday 30 September 2016

Fianna Fáil will chase anyone who has not paid water charges

Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30

Barry Cowen. Photo: Tom Burke
Barry Cowen. Photo: Tom Burke

Over half a million households refusing to pay their water bills face having the charges deducted from their salaries or social welfare payments under a plan being devised by Fianna Fáil.

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Non-payers will be pursued by a new, slimmed-down authority which the party says will be set up to replace Irish Water, the Irish Independent understands.

The confirmation that Fianna Fáil, like Fine Gael, intends to pursue those boycotting the charges removes another stumbling block to the two parties striking a coalition deal.

Having been accused of several flip-flops on the issue of water charges to date, Fianna Fáil is now adamant that bills issued must be honoured.

"You can't have one half of the country paying, and the other half refusing. We will address the issue of non-payment before we move to suspend charges," a senior party source told the Irish Independent.

Although consideration has been given to the introduction of tax credits for households who have already paid their bills, Fianna Fáil strategists now say dodgers will be pursued through the form of attachment orders.

This will happen under legislation introduced by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last year, which allows State bodies like Irish Water to pursue debtors for bills of up to €5,000.

It's understood the details of the hundreds of thousands of households which have yet to settle their bills will be transferred to a new agency modelled on the National Roads Authority (NRA).

Unlike Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil has already committed to ensuring that none of the 650 directly employed staff at Irish Water will be made redundant in the event of its abolition.

The latest move by Fianna Fáil comes on the back of a series of questions on whether water charges are a 'red line' issue in any future talks with Fine Gael about government formation.

Earlier this month, the party's Environment spokesperson, Barry Cowen, claimed that the suspension of charges for at least five years and the abolition of the utility were both issues the party would not budge over.

The claims sparked concern within the party and led to party leader, Micheál Martin, contradicting Mr Cowen.

Future

But how the departure in relation to how to deal with those dodging the charges will be welcomed within Fine Gael circles - in the event that the two parties meet to discuss the prospect of forming a minority government - is unclear.

The future of water charges is due to be discussed this week during negotiations between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and a number of independents and smaller parties.

A number of Fianna Fáil figures privately believe that the party went "too far" in its pre-election pledge to suspend charges and scrap the utility.

Rural TDs in particular say the issue is not one of concern among many of their constituents, who have been paying for water for years through group schemes. However, within urban areas, the issue is much more of a sore point.

Meanwhile, trade unions representing Irish Water workers are to step up their efforts amid concerns that hundreds of jobs at the company are at risk.

Union sources say they will run a "targeted campaign" against parties that do not guarantee the future of staff.

Last week, Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin, who is a senior strategist within the party, was forced to deny that Sinn Féin were preparing to "go to war" with Irish Water workers - whose union representatives insist that they would strongly resist redundancies.

"Certainly, Sinn Féin wouldn't be looking to go to war with anybody," Mr Ó Broin said.

But trade unionist Brendan Ogle - who is a leading member of the 'Right2Change' movement - rejected the prospect of redundancies.

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy, also a member of the anti-water charges group, said he would be strongly opposed to staff at the company losing their jobs in the event of abolition.

Where the political groupings stand on water charges

Fine Gael - Maintain the status quo

Fine Gael continues to be haunted by the series of controversies surrounding Irish Water that plagued the last Government.  But the party intends to keep the charges in place and to maintain Irish Water as the utility responsibility for the water network.  Party sources, however, insist improvements are needed in relation to how Irish Water deals with customers, particularly the elderly. 

Fianna Fáil - Suspend charges and scale down Irish water

Fianna Fáil has rowed back on claims that water charges is a red line issue ahead of any government negotiations.  The party says it will suspend charges for at least five years and replace Irish Water with a scaled-down authority similar to the National Roads Authority (NRA). It says this will cost €210m per annum.  Irish Water Staff will be offered voluntary redundancies under the party’s proposals. 

Sinn Fein - Scrap the lot...well maybe

Sinn Fein has also caused confusion in relation to its water policy after one of its senior strategists Eoin Ó Broin claimed last week that an independent commission would be set up to decide what to put in place in the event of Irish Water’s abolition.  The party has also confirmed that Irish Water workers would lose their jobs under its policy.  Unlike Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein wants to scrap charges in their entirety.

Anti-Austerity Alliance - Repay those who have settled their bills

Unlike Sinn Féin, the Anti- Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit say Irish Water staff will not lose their jobs if the utility is abolished.  They estimate that abolition will cost €271 million and say part of that will be used to repay those who have already settled their initial bills.  The left-wing grouping wants to devolve powers for running the country’s water system back to local authorities.

Irish Independent

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