Saturday 25 January 2020

FF promises to scrap water charges within six months

Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren
Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren

Niall O'Connor

Fianna Fáil has committed to scrapping water charges within six months of taking office.

In a document circulated to the Independent Alliance yesterday, the party also says a slimmed-down body to replace Irish Water will be up and running within 12-18 months.

And the party has also pledged to restore funding to the Group Water scheme to precharge levels in a move that will garner support in rural Ireland.

The document says it will cost €210m per annum to scrap charges - but that the abolition of the Water Conservation Grant will save the taxpayer €110m.

"Irish Water has failed to achieve basic public legitimacy, has diverted resources away from the water infrastructure and does not have the capacity to focus on its most important tasks," the document read.

Fianna Fáil also suggested at a meeting with Independents that it would consider holding a referendum to bring the new slimmed down authority into public ownership.

But Fine Gael is refusing to budge on its pledge to retain both the charging system and the utility. There was strong support expressed at last night's Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting as TDs backed Mr Kenny's commitment to the party's position.

"There was no budge on the need for a single utility for the country or the charges themselves," said a source.

Simon Coveney said Fine Gael will stick to its guns on Irish water and will not back down to calls to abolish irish Water and water charges.

"It's not that Fine Gael is sticking to some stubborn position," he said on RTE's 'Prime Time' last night. "We have an entity that is now functioning and it would be huge mistake to do something that is popular but wrong," he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's position on water charges is in tatters after the party said its proposed independent commission would be blocked from making certain recommendations.

In an extraordinary admission, party leader Gerry Mr Adams said the commission will be prevented from making particular proposals - such as the retention of Irish Water and water charges. "It can't if it's given terms of reference, which I have just outlined," he told reporters.

And in a bizarre bid to explain his position, Mr Adams cited the example of renovating a kitchen.

There was confusion yesterday surrounding Fianna Fáil's approach to those who have already paid, with one TD suggesting refunds should be issued. And the party also admitted there will be lay-offs under its plan, which aims to suspend charges for five years and abolish Irish Water.

"I think that follows of course when you have people that are surplus to requirements," Fianna Fáil's Transport spokesperson Timmy Dooley told RTÉ's 'News At One'.

His Dáil colleague, Waterford TD Mary Butler, insisted the suspension of charges and the abolition of the utility are 'red line' issues for the party and that those who have paid their bills should receive refunds.

"I personally think they should be refunded, because why should so many people not have to pay and so many people who have paid in good faith, not get away with it,", she told broadcaster Billy McCarthy on WLR radio.

Irish Independent

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