Wednesday 26 April 2017

FG and FF square up over water charge plan

EC dictat 'no alternative' but to pay

No alternative: Hayes says water charges must return Picture: Niall Carson/PA
No alternative: Hayes says water charges must return Picture: Niall Carson/PA
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The pressure point between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail over water charges was highlighted again yesterday following the latest intervention by the European Commission which said the Government's expert water commission must "get on" with making recommendations on water pricing policy.

In response, the Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said water pricing policy meant there had to be some kind of water charges based on consumption: "I don't see any alternative to water charges," he said.

However, Fianna Fail said the future of water charges would be decided by the Dail.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail agreed to refer the sensitive issue of water charges to the expert commission to allow for the formation of the Fine Gael-led minority government supported in a 'confidence and supply' arrangement by Fianna Fail.

The expert commission is due to report in November and the issue will then be referred to an Oireachtas committee, which is scheduled to conclude its deliberations by March 31 next, before the Dail votes on whether or not to retain or abolish water charges.

Yesterday Mr Hayes said that, following a response he had received from Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, the European Commission had stuck to its position that Ireland "must adhere" to water charges in line with the Water Framework Directive.

Mr Hayes said: "It is welcome that the European Commission has now publicly stated its view on the expert water commission. The European Commission insists that the Expert Group must 'get on' with its task and make recommendations for a water pricing policy in line with the Water Framework Directive."

However, Fianna Fail Environment spokesman Barry Cowen told the Sunday Independent: "With the greatest respect to the European Commission, they should be aware that there is a process in place in Ireland as the previous water regime was a shambles from the start and at its peak only had 53pc compliance. This process should be allowed to be completed and the Dail will decide whether water charges should be reintroduced."

An opinion poll in the Irish Times yesterday found that almost two thirds of voters favour the removal of water charges. Asked whether they were "in favour or against the complete removal of water charges" 62pc said they were in favour while 34pc said they were against and 4pc said they did not know.

In its submission to the expert water commission, Fianna Fail moved from its position to suspend charges to favouring outright abolition.

In a statement, Mr Hayes said for the European Commission, a water pricing policy meant that there had to be some kind of a water charge based on consumption.

"This is the established practice that Ireland has adopted since domestic water charges were introduced in 2015. We no longer have a derogation which exempts us from water charges, as the Commission has already clarified in previous communications," he said.

"If we are to comply with the 'polluter pays' principle in the Water Framework Directive, a principle which incentivises households and businesses to use water resources efficiently, I don't see any alternative to water charges. This is about protecting our environment and treating water as a precious commodity," he added.

Sunday Independent

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