Monday 19 March 2018

FF anger as Taoiseach insists we must pay for water

Enda Kenny-
Enda Kenny-
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fianna Fail is demanding that Taoiseach Enda Kenny withdraw his claim that water charges cannot be abolished under strict EU rules as the fragile minority government lurches into a fresh crisis.

With bills due to be suspended at the start of next month, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are once again at loggerheads over the future of domestic water charges.

After a week of claims and counter claims over interpretations of EU laws on water, the Taoiseach yesterday announced that people will have to pay for water in the future or the country will face hefty fines from Brussels.

Last night, Mr Kenny was supported by Housing and Environment Minister Simon Coveney, who told the Sunday Independent it is his belief that Irish homeowners are required to pay for water under EU law.

Mr Coveney also revealed he personally rang EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to "reassure" him about the implications of the political war over water charges in Ireland.

The fresh water controversy has sparked anger in Fianna Fail with the party's environment spokesman Barry Cowen calling on Mr Kenny to "retract" his remarks on the divisive issue.

Mr Cowen said Fianna Fail agreed to facilitate a Fine Gael minority government on a "clear understanding" that water charges could be abolished if it was recommended by an Oireachtas committee and voted on by the Dail.

"There was the understanding of those representing him during the negotiations, that the recommendations of the committee, even if they included abolition and it was accepted by the Dail, would be abided by as that is the will of the people," Mr Cowen said.

Fianna Fail's social welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea also said Mr Kenny's comments are "not credible".

The Sunday Independent has also seen an internal Fianna Fail briefing document that states that the party believes "there is now a clear route to get rid of water charges".

"The Fianna Fail position remains the same and our legal advice confirms that domestic water charges do not have to be applied in Ireland under EU law," it states.

However, Mr Coveney, who was central to negotiations with Fianna Fail, said he was always of the belief that some form of domestic water charges would have to be reintroduced after the suspension period due to the EU water framework directive.

"When we signed up with Fianna Fail to nine months' suspension, I have always held the view that we have an obligation under the water framework directive and, until someone else tells me otherwise, we have to have some form of a domestic charging system," the minister said.

During an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Kenny said it was his belief that EU rules meant "you are going to have to pay" for water charges.

Asked if Mr Kenny's comments were helpful to the workings of the Government, Mr Coveney said: "I agree with the Taoiseach and it is important that he is upfront and honest with people, but my job is to try and manage the debate.

"The Taoiseach has lots of other things to do. As minister with responsibility for water, it is up to me to try and create a rational discussion around water and how we pay for it and how we can dramatically improve infrastructure."

The latest row over water was sparked by response to a question posed by Sinn Fein to the European Commission which was interpreted as saying Ireland must pay domestic water charges.

Mr Coveney said he spoke to the EU Environment Commissioner "at length" to explain why water charges are being suspended and to give context to the water charge debate that dominated the political landscape last week.

Sunday Independent

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