Saturday 10 December 2016

Fine Gael offer water charges waivers in bid to seal FF deal

Philip Ryan, Niall O'Connor and Cormac McQuinn

Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30

Acting ministers Michael Noonan and Frances Fitzgerald of the Fine Gael team arriving for talks in the Provost’s house in Trinity College with Fianna Fáil on the formation of a minority government. Photo: Tom Burke
Acting ministers Michael Noonan and Frances Fitzgerald of the Fine Gael team arriving for talks in the Provost’s house in Trinity College with Fianna Fáil on the formation of a minority government. Photo: Tom Burke
Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae said he will not be voting for Mr Kenny as he remains unconvinced about Fine Gael's commitment to rural Ireland

Fine Gael is willing to bring in more water charges waivers and concessions for low-income workers in a bid to get back into power.

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But a senior Fianna Fáil source warned there is still a major gap between the two parties on the future of Irish Water.

It is understood Fine Gael is willing to make a series of concessions - such as the introduction of waivers and a new allowance, which will be offered to a broad cohort of customers.

One source said the allowance would be capped and that households would only pay for usage beyond this point.

There will also be concessions aimed at low-income earners which will be based on "ability to pay principle".

The transfer of the responsibility for water to a new body - a key demand of Fianna Fáil's - was also discussed by negotiating teams at Trinity College.

There is also concern within Fianna Fáil that any waivers introduced will be perceived as simply another scheme, such as the €100 Water Conservation Grant, which has been shrouded in controversy.

Meanwhile, a separate team of Fine Gael negotiators held discussions with the Independent Alliance in Leinster House, as part of a major push to persuade Shane Ross' group of six TDs to support Mr Kenny.

Sources present said it was impossible to secure the agreement of the Alliance to back Mr Kenny while the talks with Fianna Fáil were continuing.

But the prospect of avoiding another general election hinges on whether Fine Gael can persuade Fianna Fáil to support a minority government. Last night, sources in both parties said considerable progress had been made after several hours of talks but that a vote for Taoiseach this week is now unlikely.

Economic papers were exchanged and talks on the contentious issues of water charges and the future of the public utility were due to resume today.

In contrast to the Independent Alliance, members of the 'Rural Five', including Clare TD Dr Michael Harty, said they have not heard from any Fine Gael negotiator since last week.

"There has been no approach from Fine Gael since last week so I've been in the dark. There is a strange radio silence," he told the Irish Independent.

This suggests Fine Gael believes it has a better chance of electing Mr Kenny by focusing its efforts on the Independent Alliance.

Sources have suggested Fine Gael may still seek the support of some of the 'Rural Five', such as Roscommon TD Denis Naughten. The group met on their own last night to discuss the next move.

Mr Kenny was given a boost after Independent TD Katherine Zappone confirmed she intended to serve in a Fine Gael minority government, if one is formed. "To deliver progressive changes and greater equality, I believe I should take the responsibility to serve in government," she said.

Last week, Ms Zappone, along with Tipperary TD Michael Lowry, voted for Mr Kenny as Taoiseach - bringing his total votes to 52. However, he still needs 58 votes and guarantees from Fianna Fáil to support a minority government.

Responsibility

Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae said he will not be voting for Mr Kenny as he remains unconvinced about Fine Gael's commitment to rural Ireland. His brother Michael is yet to declare.

Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Joan Burton last night indicated her preference is to go into Opposition but said the party had a responsibility to consider its role in any new government.

In an email to members, she said it was "unsurprising" that Fine Gael approached Labour. Ms Burton also said her party is preparing for another election.

"Most of us are also fully aware that in the current uncertainty, a second election cannot be ruled out. Accordingly, our General Secretary is making provision for that, and has been in touch with candidates in recent days. We will be ready should another election occur."

Irish Independent

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