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Thursday 8 December 2016

Pressure grows to publish legal advice on water

Published 31/03/2016 | 02:30

AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry has urged the utility to make the legal advice public. Photo: Mark Condren
AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry has urged the utility to make the legal advice public. Photo: Mark Condren

Irish Water is coming under growing pressure to publish legal advice that it says confirms that households are now obliged to be charged for water under European law.

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AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry and Fianna Fáil's public expenditure spokesman Seán Fleming both urged the utility to make the legal advice public.

Details of the legal opinion - stating that water charges cannot be scrapped under EU law - emerged in recent days.

Lawyers advised that the introduction of water charges during the last government means the State can no longer avail of an exemption in the EU water directive and that the benefit of derogation has been lost.

But last night Ervia, the parent company of Irish Water, refused to publish the legal advice in full saying it is a "private confidential document".

Cork North Central TD Mr Barry said he believed that it should be published, adding: "What have they got to hide?"

He claimed that the legal advice should carry a "health warning" as it was commissioned by Irish Water which he said "has skin in the game".

He pointed out that water charges were scrapped in Ireland in the 1990s by the rainbow coalition and said: "That's your precedent. It happened then, it could happen now."

Mr Fleming also said he believed the legal advice should be published. He added he was interested in seeing the brief given to lawyers by Irish Water.

Meanwhile, party colleague, environment spokesman Barry Cowen last night insisted that "Water charges can be abolished.

Advice to the party is that this is consistent with the EU Water Services Directive."

"Our advice has looked at Article 9(4) of the Directive which provides that a Member State shall not be in breach of the Directive if it decides, in accordance with "established practices" not to apply charges.

"The key point here is that "established practices" refers to the situation that applied in the year 2000 when the Directive was drawn up and not on the current situation where water charges are being applied," he said.

"Fianna Fáil's position is entirely consistent with the EU Directive and water charges can be scrapped if there is the political will to deliver it," Mr Cowen added.

Irish Independent

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