Thursday 27 April 2017

Confirmed: The measures that will finally end the water charges debacle, six years later

Barry Cowen and Simon Coveney
Barry Cowen and Simon Coveney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

SIX years after it was first agreed with the Troika that water charges should be introduced an end to the debacle is finally in sight today.

Fianna Fáil is set to accept the latest legal advice given to the Oireachtas committee on water charges in a move that will see them team up with Fine Gael to agree a way forward.

Once the report is agreed, it will be voted on in the Dáil and its recommendations must then be turned into legislation by Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

It comes after a week of in-fighting that saw the confidence and supply arrangement which underpins the Government called into question.

Fianna Fáil sources told Independent.ie they are likely to accept the new legal advice on the basis that it is in line with what was originally being proposed last week before the serious deterioration  in relations with Fine Gael.

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 advice also states that the measure used for deciding on excessive consumption should be based on the estimation that the average person uses 133 litres per day.

A person will have to use 1.7 times this amount before facing levies.

The new legal advice also recommends that water meters be installed in all newly built homes.

As the debate over charges enters its final stage sources say Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will team up to vote

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 refurbishments 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 this afternoon to vote on the report which will be debated in the Dáil from 6pm.

Meanwhile,  Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told Mary Lou McDonald not to come into the Dáil “exuding righteousness” on water charges.

During testy exchanges Mr Kenny claimed Sinn Féin’s view on paying for water was “sabotaged” by the by-election victory of Solidarity’s Paul Murphy in November 2014.

“Then the sound of marching feet in Tallaght changed your view,” he said.

The Fine Gael leader was responding to an attack from Ms McDonald who said the “bully boys” of Government were trying to sabotage the work of the Committee set up to decide on the future funding of domestic water services.

“You are now trying to bully your friends in Fianna Fáil into a U-turn,” she said, in reference to the fact that new legal advice appears to have persuaded Micheál Martin’s party to accept significant changes to the committee’s final report.

“The argument on water has been won on the streets by thousands of protesters who marched at countless demonstrations.

“Your refusal to accept defeat o n the issue of water represents a real crisis for democratic representation,” Ms McDonald said.

The Taoiseach replied that the Committee has yet to finish its work and Ms McDonald should allow the members reach their conclusions.

He said that Sinn Féin now claims to be a party that is “all lawful” and should therefore obey the law “as all of your party now proclaim to do”.

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