Fall in water bill payment not my fault, says Coveney
Published 27/05/2016 | 02:30
Housing Minister Simon Coveney denied he caused a mass non-payment of water bills, calling the claim "nonsense".
Almost 8,000 bill payers moved to cancel their direct debit payments with Irish Water in March after Mr Coveney cast doubt on the future of charges on RTÉ's 'Prime Time'.
He admitted on the programme Fine Gael would need "to take on board" what Fianna Fáil, who proposed ending charges, thought of the utility as Government talks were under way.
However, he insisted he was not to blame for mass cancellations of payments, pointing out that he later clarified what he said.
"I think that's nonsense, quite frankly," he told Newstalk's Pat Kenny Show yesterday.
"What I said honestly when I was asked the question was we're going to have to talk about water. We (Fine Gael) would rather go back to the country than abolish Irish Water.
"I'd like to point out we did not abolish Irish Water in our talks with Fianna Fáil.
"Fianna Fáil said they wanted to abolish Irish Water, and we said we didn't want to."
Mr Coveney's party has agreed with Fianna Fáil to suspend water charges as part of the confidence and supply agreement which facilitates the minority Government.
The parties also agreed to set up a commission examining the future of billing and later put recommendations to a Dáil vote.
The minister denied it was inevitable that such a vote would end water charges in a Dáil where most TDs are against the charges.
"Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens and some Independents don't want to scrap water charging," he pointed out.
"Fianna Fáil said they might like to see charging in the future." He criticised parties for making the debate on the issue "political" and not discussing the future of water in Ireland
Meanwhile, Mr Coveney added he was "unhappy" Ulster Bank did not give him a "heads-up" about its plans to sell 900 owner-occupier homes with mortgages in arrears. More than 95pc of the owners had not contacted the bank in over two years, Ulster Bank said.
"I contacted the acting CEO of Ulster Bank and told him I wasn't happy I didn't get a heads-up or was not told about their situation because ultimately it's my responsibility to find new houses for these people if these people are to lose their homes."
"My job is to ensure people stay in their own homes whether that's through the Mortgage-to-rent scheme or financial advice from MABS."