Wednesday 7 December 2016

Kelly: Water shortages on cards after 'political, economic and environmental sabotage' over charges

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

Published 27/04/2016 | 14:55

Acting environment minister Alan Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Acting environment minister Alan Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney

ACTING Environment Minister Alan Kelly has described the decision to scrap water charges as "political, economic and environmental sabotage".

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In a hard-hitting speech in the Dáil, the Labour Party deputy leader questioned whether Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are acting within the law by suspending charges indefinitely.

Mr Kelly launched a strong attack on both parties, warning that the decision will plunge the country back to 1977 when Fianna Fáil abolished domestic rates.

"Fianna Fail had the chance to make a stand on mental health services, on renewal of rural Ireland, to end child poverty or to institute a living wage, yet they have made a stand on an issue that costs people €3 a week. Priorities?"

Read more: Irish Water: The 10 things you need to know about what happens next

He also said Fine Gael and Fianna Fail must now tell "law abiding citizens" who have paid their bills whether they will receive refunds.

In a stark warning, Mr Kelly said the move to suspend charges will result in water shortages in Dublin in the future.

"A suspension or scrapping of charges will lose billions of potential investment in water and I believe we will have water shortages in Dublin in future years."

The Tipperary TD became angry when the acting chairperson Alan Farrell told him he had run out of time.

Mr Kelly's Labour colleague Brendan Howlin interjected, saying it is "his last sentence, show some respect."

Mr Kelly said Ireland has obligations under the EU to have a charging system in place and we risk breaking the law if the plans to suspend charges materalise.

And he took a swipe at Minister Simon Coveney, without mentioning him by name, following his appearance on Primetime on March 1 during which he opened the door to a change in policy on water.

"The people who paid of which there are approximately 950,000 households may be about to be made “fools” of and the 340,000 people who already paid for water are being given nothing but disregard by Fianna Fail. What’s more, Irish Water reported to me that during the election the payment rate actually increased and while not all the data was collected, it was likely that a payment rate of 70% was likely. Then Prime Time on the 1st of March happened," Mr Kelly said.

"It is my view that if the suspension/abolition goes ahead, this will cost us more in the long-run. There is one vital question and it is the following, Are Fianna Fail and Fine Gael acting within the law? Does the decision to suspend water charges run contrary to EU law and in particular article 9 of the Water Framework directive?"

In a similarly passionate speech, Fianna Fáil's Environment spokesperson Barry Cowen defended his party’s stance on  water.

The Offaly TD, who is one of the Fianna Fáil negotiators in the government formation talks, described Irish Water as a “runaway train”.

“They rushed it, it was ill thought out, it was ill conceived. It was most expensive to put it mildly,” Mr Cowen said.

“It quickly ran out of control, it became a runaway train costing billions. And it has cost the taxpayer on the double,” he added.

Mr Cowen said water charges were “rammed down the throat” of households, adding that the previous government performed 13 u-turns on the issue.

While admitting it wasn’t the dominant election issue, Mr Cowen said it was clear water charges was the issue that could “strangle” the new Dáil and cause another election.

For the early part of the debate, there was no Fine Gael TD in the chamber.

The first to eventually speak was Acting Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who is a Fine Gael negotiator.

Mr Coveney said he envisaged charges to be suspended for nine months.

He said Fine Gael will “secure the future of Irish Water” and introduce a charging system “based on evidence and what is right.”

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