Wednesday 16 August 2017

AG examining if suspending water bills would breach EU law

Former Environment Minister Alan Kelly Photo: Gerry Mooney
Former Environment Minister Alan Kelly Photo: Gerry Mooney

Cormac McQuinn and Niall O'Connor

The Government has sought the Attorney General's advice on suspending water charges amid warnings that scrapping the bills would breach EU laws.

The State's top lawyer, Máire Whelan, has been asked to examine the plan to suspend charges that was agreed under the government deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Former Environment Minister Alan Kelly has argued that the arrangement is in breach of the EU's Water Framework Directive and the Labour TD has warned of "substantial" fines if the Government goes ahead.

A spokesman for Minister Simon Coveney - whose portfolio includes water - confirmed that the advice of the Attorney General had been sought, but said that it was "normal" that this would happen during the drafting of legislation.

The European Commission has indicated that Ireland would be in breach of EU law if it suspended the charges.

Officials said that if the "established practice" was to have a "polluter pays" system in place, then a previous exemption from water charges "would not apply". They were responding to a question from Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan, who has rejected their conclusion.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen has insisted that charges can be scrapped within EU laws but has refused to publish his party's legal advice to that effect.

Irish Independent

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