Thursday 27 April 2017

Varadkar says talk of general election over water charges is 'nonsense'

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke

Eilish O'Regan and John Downing

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar today ruled out any general election on the issue of water charges and dismissed the speculation as "nonsense".

He was speaking as it was reported that Fine Gael could be breaching the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fail by refusing to implement the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on water charges.

Fine Gael is refusing to sign off on a report which ends the existing regime of water charges.

However, questioned on the row today the minister said Fine Gael is not bound by the committee and it can retain its position on the water charges issue without breaching the confidence and supply agreement.

He confirmed that he read the agreement again last night.

“We need to get away from this and nonsense talk about elections and stand back and ask ourselves what is the right thing to do for Irish people?  What is the right thing to do to fund water in a sustainable way?”

He accused Fianna Fail of changing its mind so many times on water charges because of "fear and terror" of Sinn Fein and the politics of the extreme left.

Asked if the government is unravelling he said Fianna Fail needs to remember that the decision to bring in water metering and water charges was made by the party initially back in 2010.

“We were initially supportive of that because metering allows us to conserve water and people should not waste it,” he added.

In the Dáíl this afternoon Mr Varadkar backed his rival for the job of Taoiseach, Simon Coveney, in refusing to abolish water charges.

The two Fine Gael ministers seeking to succeed Enda Kenny sat side by side in the Dáil chamber as opposition leaders joked that this was “a public audition” for the Taosieach’s job.backed his rival for the job of Taoiseach, Simon Coveney, in refusing to abolish water charges.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD, Paul Murphy, said the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal underpinning the current minority coalition specifically said the Government would accept the special water committee’s decision – including a move to abolish water charges.

“Read the writing on the wall,” Mr Murphy said – also describing the two leadership rivals sitting together as a public audition for the Taoiseach’s job. The anti-water charges TD said the committee had yet to formally sign off on the new deal and it was not possible that the Attorney General had read the document and deemed it illegal.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald also jokingly referred to Mr Varadkar as Mr Coveney’s “super-hero friend”.  She accused the Government of seeking to keep water charges by devious means.

Earlier Mr Varadkar was speaking at the launch of the 'Make Work Pay' report which aims to make it easier for people with disabilities to get employment.

Two immediate steps include giving people with a disability a free travel pass for five years after getting a job and also fast tracking a return to disability payments if the employment has to end.

There will also be a new more generous means test to allow them easier access to a medical card.

The minister made the announcements with Health Minister Simon Harris and Disability Minister Finian McGrath.

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