FG and Labour on verge of water charges compromise
FINE Gael and Labour hope to finalise a detailed compromise deal on water charges later today to end a damaging row, little more than three weeks ahead of elections.
Senior advisers to both parties in government will meet for talks on a compromise package which could be signed off at tomorrow's cabinet meeting.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hoped a deal could be agreed "as quickly as possible" but, pointedly, did not predict it would be done this week.
Before Easter, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had refused to sign off on the Government's submission to the Energy Regulator, who will set the water charges.
The Taoiseach revealed the average family bill would be €240 in the first year – but Labour insisted several important issues have yet to be finalised. Labour then signalled that they were fighting for better concessions for those on low incomes, an accelerated programme of water meter installation, and an optimal water allowance for families with medical needs requiring extra water use.
They are also seeking the possible subsidisation of the €50 standing or minimum charge through increased welfare payments.
The extent of the welfare subsidy remains contentious as the Social Protection Department's €20bn per year budget is under constant strain.
An expected fall in unemployment payments this year was already factored into the department's calculations.
And it requires a sign-off from the four-person Economic Management Council, comprising the Taoiseach, Tanaiste and both ministers responsible for finance.
Questioned about these issues, as Fine Gael launched its European election manifesto, Environment Minister Phil Hogan said all details were under discussion within the Government.
"We're working on these issues and we will have revised proposals this week," Mr Hogan said.
The Environment Minister would not say for definite if a deal could be done this week.
But it is understood that both parties are eager to calm things down and move to other aspects of their campaigns for local and European Parliament elections, set for May 23.
The Government cannot increase the €537m per year subsidy to Irish Water, as this is the maximum allowed for semi-states.
The Taoiseach said this investment was key to the provision of high-quality and reliable water services for homes and businesses into the future.