70,000 still face fines for water ‘wasting’
FF U-turn finally allows for deal
Almost one in 10 household will still be hit with "levies" for wasting water after Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil finally agreed a deal to end charges.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney must now begin work on issuing refunds to one million law-abiding households who had paid money to Irish Water.
After 10 days of frantic negotiations Fianna Fáil performed yet another U-turn on its policy to finally vote through a report on the future funding of domestic water services.
But their water spokesman Barry Cowen denied capitulating to Housing Minister Simon Coveney, arguing the party had ensured the "failed regime is gone".
Under the deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil legislation will be drawn up to punish around 70,000 households who currently use 32pc of the country's domestic water supply.
The Oireachtas water committee decided to define the average daily water consumption of a person at 133 litres. A 'waster' is considered to be somebody who uses 1.7 times this amount.
The exact penalty for "excessive" usage will have to be decided by Mr Coveney when he draws up legislation in the coming weeks but it could involve people being brought to court.
The final report also recommends that existing building regulations be amended so that builders are required to install water meters in all newly built homes.
Fianna Fáil had objected to the word "excessive" and the further rollout of meters last week but backtracked on foot of fresh legal advice provided to the Oireacthas water committee.
Mr Cowen said the report is "essentially" the same as the one agreed over a week ago before a major row broke out between the two parties.
He said it provides for "a fair system where those who abuse our water service are financially penalised, but water charges for 92pc of the population have been eliminated".
Asked if he accepted Mr Coveney had won the battle, Mr Cowen replied: "I don't care about whether it's 2-nil, 3-nil, 5-nil or 10-nil or 1-1 or whatever it might be. When the spin fades away the facts will remain that there are no changes and Fianna Fáil has honoured its commitments."
He said 10 days had been wasted on foot of Fine Gael game-playing, which he suggested was the result of the leadership battle between Mr Coveney and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.
"Maybe you can ask Mr Varadkar if he's happy now because it's the same deal that was there 10 days ago," he said.
Mr Cowen said if he expected others to abide by the legal advice then he would have to do so himself.
"Charges are gone, they are not coming back," he said, adding that if households "wilfully abuse water I have no problem with them being fined".
However, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy who has led the anti-water charges movement, last night urged people to start removing water meters from outside their homes. He noted that only houses with meters will be liable for excessive usage charges.
"So if people are out there and they currently have water meters that they don't want to have, I'd suggest that if they get rid of those water meters then they can't be faced with any charge whatsoever," he said.
Mr Murphy said general charges were gone but they Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had done a "backroom dodgy deal".
Fine Gael's Martin Heydon said his party "was true to our principles".