Monday 19 March 2018

Coalition steers on a collision course over water bills

FEE: Standing charges may be put into place
FEE: Standing charges may be put into place

JOHN DRENNAN Political Editor

THE coalition partners are set for another collision course over water charges after senior Labour figures last night demanded "extra cash" for vulnerable groups, pensioners and the unemployed.

The move comes ahead of this week's crucial Cabinet showdown on the issue, which caused a rift between Fine Gael and Labour earlier this month after details of how much the charges would cost householders were leaked to the media.

A senior Labour source told the Sunday Independent: "The core collective concern of Labour cabinet ministers is that the premature proposal of [Environment Minister] Phil Hogan offered little in the way of affordability measures for vulnerable groups."

A Department of Social Protection source said: "There is no immediately available pool of money for this. If we are to look after pensioners and the vulnerable we will need to secure funding through negotiation and agreement with Government colleagues.''

The Sunday Independent has learned that securing the extra funds has become a priority for Social Protection Minister Joan Burton.

One senior Labour source said Ms Burton may seek "payback" for helping Health Minister James Reilly to balance his budget.

"Joan is still smarting over having to hand over €50m to help James Reilly balance his budget, this could well be a case of pay-back time for looking after Reilly in his hour of need," the source added.

Imposing water charges is a matter for the Department of the Environment and in an indication of the seriousness of the differences on the issue between the Coalition partners, Labour Whip Emmet Stagg told the Sunday Independent: "Labour TDs are united behind Mr Gilmore; we are totally supportive of the refusal to accept water charges in their current format."

Mr Stagg, also noted that "previous water charge schemes had waivers for the elderly and the disadvantaged.

"Why, under a Labour government, should this scheme be any different?"

Sunday Independent

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