Monday 20 May 2019

AG told Kelly: 'There's no way of ending water charges'

Former Environment Minister Alan Kelly Picture: Tom Burke
Former Environment Minister Alan Kelly Picture: Tom Burke

Philip Ryan, Kevin Doyle and Paul Melia

Former Environment Minister Alan Kelly was told by the Attorney General's office that Ireland could no longer legally apply for an exemption from water charges.

It is understood Mr Kelly was advised that it was not possible for Ireland to get rid of water charges due to strict European Union anti-pollution laws while he was still in office.

The revelation comes as the Government prepares to suspend water charges tomorrow ahead of the establishment of an expert commission which will examine the future of Irish Water.

The advice from the AG has remained secret until now and is likely to be disputed by Fianna Fáil which demanded that water charges be suspended in return for facilitating a Fine Gael-led minority government.

Last night Mr Kelly issued a statement, insisting there is "no legal basis whatsoever for scrapping water charges" as the Government prepared to pass legislation to suspend charges.

"Personally, I believe there is a strong possibility that this bill is contrary to EU law, which has constitutional primacy over acts of the Oireachtas," he said.

Mr Kelly also questioned whether Housing Minister Simon Coveney received legal advice before suspending charges.

"Has he received the advice of the Attorney General that he can proceed this way? I was always advised that legally we had no choice but to have water charges as our derogation was gone since 2010 so how could this advice have changed?"

A senior Government source said the legality of abolishing water charges will be addressed by the expert commission and an Oireachtas committee.

Meanwhile, a former Scottish minister, an academic lawyer, an economist and a Dutch consultant are to sit on the expert commission being set up to take the heat out of the water charges debate.

Former senator Joe O'Toole is to chair the eight-person panel which has been given a November deadline to deliver a report to a special Oireachtas committee.

Speaking yesterday, Mr O'Toole said households will have to pay for their water whether through general taxation, domestic charges or a mix of the two.

"There are a variety of approaches which can be looked at and we will tease them out one by one by one," he told RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke'.

Irish Independent

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