Sunday 23 April 2017

Explained: What is happening with water charges now?

Fine Gael will vote against the report of the committee on water charges today
Fine Gael will vote against the report of the committee on water charges today
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The water charges controversy is about to turn yet another corner today with a report from the Oireachtas committee on water charges due to be voted on. Here is everything you need to know:

What is happening now?

After months of work a committee which was set up to look at how the end of water charges should be rolled out and how water conservation could be promoted, a draft report will be voted on today.

But the report left the Government at odds with Fianna Fáil and opposition parties, after months of back and forth.

What does the report say?

The key elements of the report are:

• Water charges will be scrapped

• Refunds will be paid to people who paid their bills

• New buildings will not be automatically metered, this will instead be done on an “opt-in basis”

So what’s the disagreement about?

The dispute centres on the term “excessive” use of water. Fine Gael insists overuse must be charged for to comply with EU regulations.

However, other parties – including Fianna Fáil – have insisted penalties should apply for “wilful/abusive use of water”.

Who said what?

The Government has said the specifics of the report will put Ireland on a collision course with the EU.

But Fianna Fáil responded by claiming that Fine Gael simply can’t accept that water charges are no more.

The Solidarity party said the report is a “victory” for people who opposed the charges all along.

Was all this not settled weeks ago?

An agreement in principal on the report was reached between the parties last week but in the interim both sides sought new changes and the current dispute emerged - and ultimately proved unresolvable.

What happens now?

Fine Gael will vote against the draft report today but the committee make-up means it will pass as Fianna Fáil and other opposition parties have enough votes to pass the report. It will then fall to the Government to create new laws based on the report’s recommendations.

Does all this mean we are looking at a general election?

The current dispute has brought the prospect of a general election closer. The minority Government is currently propped up by a “confidence and supply agreement” with Fianna Fáil. One of the pillars of this agreement was based on the reform of water charges.

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