Tuesday 17 July 2018

Help families to beat the meter: FG's compromise plan on water charges

Photo: Fennell photography
Photo: Fennell photography

Kevin Doyle, Niall O'Connor and Barry Lennon

Fine Gael has offered to introduce a sizeable free water allowance so that 'beating the meter' to reduce bills becomes an achievable goal for families.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny's party has told Fianna Fáil it is also willing to give waivers to households that are deemed unable to afford charges, and offer welfare payments to help certain demographics, such as older people.

However, Fianna Fáil has so far insisted the outright suspension of charges will be the price of support for a minority government.

Talks between the two parties came close to breaking down yesterday and, according to two sources, Mr Kenny privately consulted a number of TDs and ministers about the prospect of calling a second election.

A meeting between the ­acting Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil ­leader Micheál Martin was called, where it was agreed that the negotiation teams should continue their work. As a ­result, the teams met for about 90 ­minutes in Trinity College yesterday evening - but while the meeting ended "amicably", sources said there is still a big gap on water.

"They need to realise that they are getting the prize of government. We need to get what we want on water," a ­Fianna Fáil source told the Irish Independent.

It is understood that Fine Gael has proposed a new allowance which would result in households getting the vast majority of their water for free.

However, Fianna Fáil has said this would not work, as thousands of homes do not yet have a water meter and would therefore have to pay some sort of "nominal charge".

The Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition had previously planned an allowance of 30,000 litres a year per household but this was abandoned in favour of charges being capped at €260. The newly tabled allowance is expected to be much higher.

A Fine Gael source said water charges would be "effectively gone" but the principal of ­conservation would still apply.

However, the parties were still at loggerheads last night as Fianna Fáil demanded a total deferral of charges until every home has a meter.

"Middle Ireland would still pay something. It will be the first motion before the Dáil from Sinn Féin anyway so they are going to have to deal with it," said a source.

Despite the impasse, both sides told the Irish Independent they still believe a deal will eventually be done, and they are due to hold further discussions today.

A Fine Gael negotiator said a "deal is in sight" but added that it may not materialise until next week.

Party whips were also told that a vote for Taoiseach may now not take place until Wednesday next week at the earliest.

On his way out of yesterday's meeting, Acting Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he understood people were "frustrated" by the delays.

"The process is slow and we have to refer back to our party leaders," he said.

"But I think it is fair to say we have made progress today. It's almost two months since the election and I know members of the public as well as politicians are frustrated but I think it's moving in the right direction."

Fianna Fáil's Michael McGrath said negotiations had also dealt with other policy areas, such as housing.

"We're very focused on supporting families, people with cost-of-living issues, and, of course, Irish Water," he said.

Meanwhile, the Labour ­Party's seven TDs have ­officially decided not to re-enter ­government.

Parliamentary party chairman Willie Penrose said: "The offering we made to the ­electorate to form part of a ­stable administration was ­rejected. Those that did get a mandate must honour their responsibilities to the electorate and end this period of political instability and paralysis."

Irish Independent

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