Labour furious at Hogan's call for deadline to set water charge
A MAJOR split in the Coalition over water charges is heading for a full-blown crisis after Labour vowed not to be bound by Phil Hogan's deadline.
The Environment Minister has insisted that he wants key decisions on tariffs and free allowances made by the end of next week. But Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has delivered a clear rebuke, saying his party "won't be bound by any timetable".
As local and European elections approach, Fine Gael and Labour are further away than ever from reaching a compromise on the issue ahead of a likely showdown at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting.
They have now engaged in a tit-for-tat row, with Mr Hogan's spokesman last night insisting that the minister was holding firm to a statement he made that a decision on the tariffs and reliefs would be reached "within 10 days".
The comment came after Mr Gilmore had delivered a clear rebuke to Mr Hogan over his claim that the coalition partners will resolve their differences on water charges by the end of next week.
On Wednesday, Mr Hogan insisted that the issues of tariffs and reliefs for families on low incomes would be agreed "within 10 days".
That infuriated Labour figures, who are adamant that Fine Gael is trying to "railroad" the water charges through. Last night senior Labour sources were insisting that the party would take as long as necessary to get the right result.
Government sources said the Labour Party was demanding concessions on the level of free allowance given to bigger families, the level of tariff charged to the elderly and pensioners and the treatment of houses which will not be metered in time for when billing begins.
Addressing the elevated level of rancour between the parties, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn admitted that the Coalition had not been "acting as a national Government in recent weeks".
He said all members of the Coalition, as well as the public, "have to be concerned" at the state of relations.
"I think we all have to be concerned about that. The country has to be concerned. The team has to play together," he told Newstalk.
Intensive discussions between the parties, involving officials, advisers and ministers, will continue throughout the weekend ahead of a crunch meeting of the Economic Management Council on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in Dublin yesterday, Mr Gilmore (pictured) said: "It is important we get it (water charges) right.
"We have been very clear that there are a number of issues that have to get resolved. We are not going to be bound by any timetable."
A spokesman for the Taoiseach last night told the Irish Independent that "This issue will be discussed again at next week's Cabinet. There is really nothing to add."