Monday 26 June 2017

Another twist in the water charges row as legal advice warns draft report could leave Ireland facing EU fines

The Oireachtas Water Committee is now at risk of collapsing without agreement after Fine Gael lost a series of key votes on the issue of so-called 'excessive usage'. Stock Image
The Oireachtas Water Committee is now at risk of collapsing without agreement after Fine Gael lost a series of key votes on the issue of so-called 'excessive usage'. Stock Image
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The row over water charges has taken another twist with fresh legal advice suggesting meters must be installed in newly built homes..

The Committee on the future funding of the domestic water supply has also been told that "levies" should be applied to those guilty of “excessive” water usage, rather than “penalties” for “wilful waste”.

The change is a breakthrough for Fine Gael who have consistently argued that the Committee’s proposed report would result in Ireland being hit with massive EU fines.

Sources said the change of legal advice could force Fianna Fáil into a u-turn on many of the decisions it made last week.

Solidary TD Paul Murphy described the new submission from the committee’s legal advisor as “utterly bizarre”.

He claimed the advice is now saying “exactly the opposite thing” to last week.

“This is a political report from a committee and we should vote on it today as it is. We should pass it, we should abolish water charges, we should listen to the majority of people,” he said.

Mr Murphy said today’s advice gives an “out to Fianna Fáil” to go back to support water meters in all  newly built homes.

Independent.ie has seen the legal advice which warns of “difficulty” in meeting Ireland’s requirements under EU rules unless meters are installed.

The senior counsel wrote: “I think it would be preferable that the issue of water meters be addressed through the use of Building Regulations and therefore a potential form of wording could read as follows:

‘The Committee recommends that the legislation utilise Building Regulations as a basis for legislation in regard to the use of water meters in new dwellings and dwelling refurbishment so that the amount of household water consumption is clear to users and as a means of effective leak detection and conservation.’”

The advice adds that without this there is “a risk” the EU Commission “will not acknowledged Ireland’s efforts at complying” with the polluter pays principle.

The Committee is due to meet again this afternoon to decide how to proceed.

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