Cowen caves in on 'red-line' water issue
Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has caved in on his claim that the future of water charges is a red-line issue for the party.
Mr Cowen yesterday refused to use the phrase 'red line' and insisted that negotiations have not yet begun in relation to any Programme for Government.
"Our position on Irish Water is in our manifesto. We haven't entered any negotiations yet.
"Our manifesto contains more pages than the section on water charges," Mr Cowen said, while declining to say if the matter remains a red-line issue.
On two occasions last week, Mr Cowen said Fianna Fáil will insist on its commitments in relation to Irish Water if in government. These are the suspension of water charges for at least five years and the abolition of Irish Water as an entity.
Speaking on 'Today with Séan O'Rourke' last Tuesday, Mr Cowen said the water charge is "one of many" red-line issues.
And later that evening, he appeared to repeat the claim during an interview on 'Prime Time'.
"I've mentioned water charges," he said.
But Fianna Fáil then appeared to change its stance on water charges on Thursday. Sources say party leader Michéal Martin contradicted his environment spokesperson Mr Cowen during a parliamentary party meeting, saying there are no specific red-line issues for Fianna Fáil. It is understood Mr Cowen and Mr Martin discussed the matter this week and agreed against using the phrase 'red line'.
But Fianna Fáil sources remain adamant that the party will stand by its manifesto pledges.
Meanwhile, SIPTU yesterday raised serious questions over Fianna Fáil's proposal for a National Roads Authority (NRA) type model for the provision of water services. The country's largest trade union said such a move would lead to increased outsourcing and speed up the privatisation of the water services infrastructure.
The Ervia group of unions has also written to the leaders of the main political parties seeking assurances for future employment of members.
"Over the past decade, SIPTU members have continuously warned against the creeping privatisation of water services and the proposal to use the NRA model would hasten this process," said Secretary of Ervia Group of Unions, Adrian Kane.
"The NRA is responsible for approximately 6pc of the road network while Irish Water has overall responsibility for both the capital investment and servicing of the State's entire water infrastructure.
"The debate between the payment for water services and the structure best designed to deliver and improve our water infrastructure needs to be separated. While water charges remain contentious, it is imperative that the provision of water services remains in public ownership and is organised in a strategic and intelligent manner."