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Confusion as Gilmore makes U-turn on water charges plan

LABOUR leader Eamon Gilmore has done another election U-turn, this time on his party's support for water charges.

In October, Mr Gilmore said he would back water charges if meters were installed in every house. But Labour is now running advertisements attacking Fine Gael's plans for water charges of up to €238 per family -- and is vowing to oppose any such measure.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin backed comments by Mr Gilmore yesterday that the party would not support the installation of water meters in the next government.

"We are not in favour of water charges, we don't believe in a flat rate and you couldn't meter everybody within years," he said.

The latest Labour reversal comes amid continued sniping between Fine Gael and Labour, with Pat Rabbitte warning his party would be needed as a 'brake' in government to defend the vulnerable against cuts proposed by Fine Gael.

Mr Rabbitte also warned people could be apprehensive about the kind of policies that Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar and others would like to implement.

Mr Varadkar said he was only putting forward his party's own policies -- and accused Labour of "chopping and changing" its policy on water charges.

"I thought they were in favour of them but they changed their policy. It's impossible to keep up with their policies, it's different every second day. I don't know how anyone can take them seriously," he said.

The Government announced in the last Budget that it would be going ahead with the installation of water meters -- and that water charges would follow for up to 1.2 million households when the project was completed in 2014. The cost of installing them could be up to €300m, but they would then start providing revenue to pay local authorities for the €1bn annual cost of providing safe water.

Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens are supporting water charges once meters are installed.

Mr Gilmore indicated his position on water charges last October in a speech to the Dail which gave details of his party's spending and taxation plans -- at a time when it was facing criticism for being vague.


"It should also be possible to phase in water charges on a metered basis as part of a broader reform of how we manage and deliver this vital environmental resource," he said.

But the Labour Party manifesto now says the party "does not favour water charges".

Mr Howlin re-affirmed this yesterday. He was the Labour Environment Minister in 1996 who originally abolished water charges. He said Labour's priority would be to spend the hundreds of millions of euro needed to pay for water metering on upgrading pipes to save the 50-60pc of water which leaks out of the system.

"It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions of euro metering a leaky system," he said.

Labour TD Pat Rabbitte added to the confusion over the policy U-turn after he said on RTE radio this week that there should be metered water charges after 2014.

Irish Independent