Sunday 26 March 2017

Kenny says water charges must stay as FF puts cost of refunds at €50m

Enda Kenny with Danny Healy Rae. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Enda Kenny with Danny Healy Rae. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Cormac McQuinn and Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has reinforced his support for the retention of household water charges and accused Fianna Fáil of "populism" in seeking their abolition.

He slammed the rival party's policy, saying that if it came about "everybody could leave their taps on" and the taxpayer would have to foot the bill.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Brian, Chloe (14 months) and Michelle Mahon at the ploughing. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Brian, Chloe (14 months) and Michelle Mahon at the ploughing. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Mr Kenny's remarks came as Fianna Fáil's environment spokesman Barry Cowen told the Irish Independent that his party's proposal to refund those who had paid their water bills through a tax credit would cost in the region of €50m.

An Expert Commission is currently examining the future of funding water services under an agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Mr Cowen's party has made a submission calling for charges to be scrapped and for those who paid to be refunded.

Mr Kenny said that under these circumstances water would have to be funded by the central exchequer.

He said he hasn't spoken to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on what he described as the party's "new position" on water but added that he (Mr Martin) "knows very well what our position is".

Enda Kenny chats with Gerry King from Co. Louth at the ploughing. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Enda Kenny chats with Gerry King from Co. Louth at the ploughing. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Mr Cowen outlined how those who paid charges would be refunded if it is ultimately decided to scrap the hated fees.

"You either refund people who have paid through a tax credit or any other means which they wish to explore or which they ask us to consider. If it meets the gap that's there, then we'll accept that," he said.

Mr Kenny was speaking at a wide-ranging briefing for reporters ahead of his attendance at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Offaly. He described the event as "a great pageant of modern Ireland".

The Taoiseach said: "Farmers have had a difficult year and obviously this is an occasion for them to present the best of produce and new and innovative ways of doing things".

Mr Kenny spoke of the need for the upcoming Budget to be Brexit-proofed.

He said Finance Minister Michael Noonan is travelling to London today to discuss Britain's plan to leave the EU with his counterpart, Philip Hammond.

He said that indications from British ministers are that the triggering of Article 50 - the beginning of the process of leaving the EU - will take place early next year but that it's a matter for the UK's prime minister Theresa May to decide.

On the Budget here, he said the sum available for spending and tax cuts, around €1bn, is "constrained enough".

"What we want to do with that is decide what are the issues that you can deal with that will improve the quality of people's lives," he said, adding that there will be funding for 800 additional gardaí and 650 nurses.

Mr Kenny told how Mr Noonan had assured him of his fitness to work following his hospitalisation for cellulitis last week.

"If that wasn't the position, he would inform me also and I trust him completely on that," Mr Kenny added.

The Taoiseach said that ministers Simon Coveney, Katherine Zappone and Simon Harris will today announce details of a plan to tackle homelessness, including measures aimed at ending the use of hotels as emergency accommodation.

Mr Kenny said that the Citizens' Assembly to discuss the Eighth Amendment will meet for the first time on Saturday, October 15 and he looks forward to receiving its conclusions.

Chaired by Supreme Court judge Mary Laffoy, the assembly will examine the law that bans abortion and gives equal status to the life of a mother and an unborn child.

Mr Kenny said that the north inner city taskforce, which was set up to support the area amid the spate of gangland killings this year, is "an issue that I've taken very much to heart."

He said he's had meetings with the community and that people's resilience is "quite incredible".

He said the area had been given a "bad name" by a small group of people.

Mr Kenny brushed off questions on his future leadership of Fine Gael, saying his focus is on "a very big agenda" in government.

He said he's not concerned with his legacy and joked: "The one remaining thing I'd like to do is to see the green and red take up Sam Maguire at Croke Park".

Irish Independent

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