Tuesday 24 October 2017

Fresh water row after FF backs invite for pressure group to attend committee

Critical of Fianna Fáil: Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon Photo: Tom Burke
Critical of Fianna Fáil: Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon Photo: Tom Burke

Alan O'Keeffe

Fianna Fáil has been accused of trying to delay a decision on the future of water charges after backing an invitation for Right2Water to address an Oireachtas committee.

A row erupted during a private session of the cross-party committee on water over whether the pressure group could add anything to the information already available to TDs and senators.

Fine Gael party chairman Martin Heydon, a member of the committee, sharply criticised Fianna Fáil members for the move, which will not be in the public interest, he claimed.

"With today's antics at the Oireachtas Water Committee, Fianna Fáil is effectively holding up the work of the committee which is not in the public interest," the Kildare South TD said.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water was established to examine the expert report on water charges. It has a deadline of April 1 for reporting back to the Dáil.

"When the Oireachtas Water Committee was set up, Minister Coveney ensured it had a full representation of the Houses of the Oireachtas," Mr Heydon said.

"Accordingly, all viewpoints on water are represented on this committee through the work of public representatives. The mandate we have is to hear from experts in the field and come to a consensus on the basis of fact.

"We do not need interest groups wielding agendas, be it on the pro or anti-water charges side of the debate, coming in to tell us what we already know their position to be.

"It is a shame Fianna Fáil has contributed to this delay in the work of the committee."

The row between the parties took place during a private session of the committee.

The public session was addressed by Dr Tom Collins, chairman of the Public Water Forum, a body which represents domestic users as well as industry, tourism interests, group water schemes and other sectors.

The forum believed "water, as a basic need, is a citizen entitlement where access should not be determined or circumscribed by ability to pay or that one's water usage should in any way increase the risk or exacerbates the impact of poverty".

Dr Collins proposed a merging of the Public Water Forum and the National Rural Water Services Committee and other consultative groups to reduce duplication and provide a single, more powerful voice for users and stakeholders.

The new body would be concerned with water supply, water quality and environmental protection. Such a body, called the National Water Forum, would advise the minister on a wide range of initiatives.

Dr Collins raised a rare laugh on the subject of water charges when he pointed out that domestic water charges were to yield €232m in 2014 when they were dropped but, in the same year, Irish people spent €215m on bottled water. He said that meant 25 litres of bottled water per head. If Irish Water had got that kind of funding, its money problems would have been solved.

Irish Independent

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