Thursday 22 March 2018

Eamon Gilmore: Walkout over water never on cards

FEE: Standing charges may be put into place
FEE: Standing charges may be put into place

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore has voiced fresh concern about the impact water charges may have on low-income households – but insisted that his party did not consider walking out of government.

Mr Gilmore stood firm on his position that Labour would not bow to Fine Gael pressure aimed at reaching agreement on water charges in the coming days.

In what was another bruising week for the Coalition, the Labour leader was forced to publicly rebuke Environment Minister Phil Hogan after he appeared to suggest that a deal must be struck by the end of next week.

Mr Gilmore said on Thursday that he and his party colleagues would not comply with any "timetable" as laid down by Mr Hogan.

But he yesterday moved to quell speculation that senior Labour figures discussed the prospect of walking out of government during the height of the tensions last week.

It had been reported that such an option was discussed by a small number of party figures, including advisers, amid deep anger over Fine Gael's attempts to "railroad" through the water charges.

Mr Gilmore admitted that his party still had concerns about how the charges would impact on low-income households and vulnerable groups such as the elderly.

Fine Gael is desperately hoping that agreement on outstanding issues such as tariffs and reliefs can be achieved at next week's cabinet meeting. Such a prospect would allow both parties to switch their focus on to the upcoming local, European and by-elections.

Speaking at an event in Dalkey, the Labour leader said the outstanding issues also include those homes that will not be metered by the end of the year but will still be charged.

"We've made it very clear that there are issues around how we deal with the number of houses that won't be metered by the end of the year and how water charges should apply in those circumstance," he said.

"And secondly, how we deal in particular with the issue of ability to pay. Because the reality is, for many households, an additional bill, particularly for people on low incomes, is going to be very difficult.

"And I'm thinking in particularly about pensioners, older people, people who are on low, fixed incomes, and we have to get a resolution for those and I believe we will," he added.

Mr Gilmore did not repeat his public rebuke of Mr Hogan but said that his party was focused on ironing on the issues regardless of how long it takes.

"I'm anxious to do it as quickly as possible. Because I think there is an advantage when people know where we are going with it.

"But I think it is also important that we get it right. We have still some work to do on it. We will do that as quickly as we possibly can but I think we have to get it right in the interest of the public."

Irish Independent

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