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Monday 1 September 2014

Middle-income families to be hit as FG gives in to Labour on water

Daniel McConnell and Niall O'Connor

Published 30/04/2014 | 02:30

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Phil Hogan, Eamon Gilmore, Enda Kenny and Richard Bruton at the opening of Local Enterprise Offices in Mullingar yesterday
Water meter protesters have been active nationwide. Photo: Provision
Water meter protesters have been active nationwide. Photo: Provision

FINE Gael is to bow to Labour demands to scrap the controversial €50 standing water charge for households, the Irish Independent can reveal.

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But because the standing charge now looks set to be abandoned, higher per litre charges will have to apply once the free household allowance has been used up, government sources admitted last night.

This means middle-income households will expect to pay "marginally more", the sources said.

The Cabinet is to meet today in an attempt to finalise the tariffs facing homeowners, but there were conflicting signs last night as to how close the sides were to agreement.

Labour ministers met yesterday evening and reaffirmed their position that the standing charge was not acceptable.

They were also demanding concessions on people's ability to pay, the pace of metering across the country and the level of allowance for families and people with illnesses.

One senior Labour minister, speaking to the Irish Independent, said: "There is no agreement yet and it is unlikely that it will be signed off at Cabinet."

Yet, late last night, there were strong signals from Fine Gael that it was likely to back down on the various Labour demands.

One Fine Gael minister confirmed that his party was willing "to bow to the Labour standing charge demand" and a direction to the Commission on Energy Regulation (CER) on that basis later in the year.

DEAL

Fine Gael ministerial sources last night said they were "hopeful" final agreement could be reached today.

"The deal is closing, the gap is closing and we are nearly there," said one Fine Gael minister.

It has emerged that direct discussions took place between Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Labour's Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, in a bid to resolve the dispute.

However, one issue that Fine Gael is not yet prepared to back down on, according to sources, is the issue of "pay per usage".

Sources said that was essential in terms of raising revenue to cover the cost of running Irish Water.

Last week, Mr Hogan's department had insisted that a standing charge was the norm in similar industries like electricity and gas.

It has also emerged that a proposed average annual charge of €248 did not originate within Irish Water, but from "within political circles".

"That was a figure that someone plucked out of their arse," said one senior source.

Last night, the Taoiseach's spokesman reiterated comments from Mr Kenny that the parties "are united on the issues of affordability and fairness".

Speaking at a Labour Party event in Dublin last night, Mr Gilmore said it is unlikely that a deal will be struck by today.

He said the figure of €240 is unaffordable for many families.

According to Mr Gilmore, a critical issue is the provision of a "genuine free allowance".

"There are a number of issues as you know. First of all there is the question of how you deal with the fact that so many dwellings will not be metered by the end of the year. We have to get a satisfactory solution to that," he said.

Irish Independent

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