Tuesday 20 March 2018

Cabinet fails to sign off on water charges at latest meeting

Government sources say no decision made

Minister for Environment Phil Hogan is responsible for the water charges rollout. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister for Environment Phil Hogan is responsible for the water charges rollout. Photo: Tony Gavin
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

The Cabinet has failed to sign off on controversial water charges today, it has emerged.

While the matter was discussed, Government sources have said that “no decision was made.”

Independent.ie understands that the issue of standing charge was “not discussed in detail at Cabinet” today but that the sides are edging closer to agreement.

Fine Gael is to bow to Labour demands to scrap the controversial €50 standing water charge for households.

But because the standing charge now looks set to be abandoned, higher per litre charges will have to apply once the free household allowance has been used up, government sources admitted last night.

This means middle-income households will expect to pay "marginally more", the sources said.

Labour ministers met yesterday evening and reaffirmed their position that the standing charge was not acceptable.

They were also demanding concessions on people's ability to pay, the pace of metering across the country and the level of allowance for families and people with illnesses.

One Fine Gael minister confirmed that his party was willing "to bow to the Labour standing charge demand" and a direction to the Commission on Energy Regulation (CER) on that basis later in the year.

"The deal is closing, the gap is closing and we are nearly there," said one Fine Gael minister.

It has emerged that direct discussions took place between Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Labour's Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, in a bid to resolve the dispute.

However, one issue that Fine Gael is not yet prepared to back down on, according to sources, is the issue of "pay per usage".

Sources said that was essential in terms of raising revenue to cover the cost of running Irish Water.

Last week, Mr Hogan's department had insisted that a standing charge was the norm in similar industries like electricity and gas.

It has also emerged that a proposed average annual charge of €248 did not originate within Irish Water, but from "within political circles".

"That was a figure that someone plucked out of their arse," said one senior source.

Last night, the Taoiseach's spokesman reiterated comments from Mr Kenny that the parties "are united on the issues of affordability and fairness".

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