FF stands by water fines plan after stark warning of 'trouble' in EU letter
Fianna Fáil has dismissed a letter from the EU Commissioner warning Ireland could be in line for millions in fines if water charges are not restored as "a needless intervention".
European Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella said it was "questionable whether abolishing domestic water charges and replacing them only with a system penalising the wasteful usage of water" would be sufficient to ensure Ireland stays within EU guidelines.
In a letter to MEP Brian Hayes, the commission indicated Fianna Fáil's proposal to use the 2007 Water Services Act as an alternative to Fine Gael's plan for a set charge on wastage would not establish a reliable source of revenue to cover the cost of water services.
The letter sent to Fine Gael's Mr Hayes gives weight to Housing Minister Simon Coveney's argument that he cannot introduce legislation which the EU would rule unlawful.
However, Fine Gael is outnumbered by anti-water charges TDs on an Oireachtas committee tasked with finding a compromise.
They have until April 14 to produce a report which can be voted on in the Dáil.
Mr Hayes told the Irish Independent the commissioner's letter creates "serious trouble for the deal Fianna Fáil want to do".
"I don't know how they are going to get over this problem," he said.
Fianna Fáil's housing spokesman Barry Cowen said the Commissioner's letter was "as usual, premature".
"How, for example, can it be determined how sufficient the 2007 Act can be when the committee has yet to agree the means by which it can be strengthened," he said.
"That is the committee's privilege and I hope it can be done this week."
Mr Cowen added that the intervention "probably has more to do with the Fine Gael leadership than anything else".