Thursday 14 December 2017

FF says legal tweak 'would allow water wasters to be fined'

Cool reception: Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Cool reception: Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
John Downing

John Downing

Fresh efforts to break the water charge deadlock between the two main parties will turn on a new legal compromise, it has emerged.

Efforts to broker a compromise will focus on amending a 2007 law allowing water wasters to be prosecuted and fined.

The changes would extend its application from mainly industrial and business users to include domestic water.

It is understood this may require an extension of time, amounting to several weeks.

The special committee of TDs and senators, chaired by businessman Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, will meet again tomorrow in efforts to find a way round the impasse.

The row between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, mainly over how to control water wastage, had last week threatened to bring down the minority Coalition.

Fine Gael, through Housing Minister Simon Coveney, has insisted that EU law is understood to require water charges at a minimum for those who excessively use or who waste water.

Mr Coveney has said this is his advice from the Attorney General - and the Government cannot allow arrangements which break EU law and could lead to heavy fines.

But Fianna Fáil has produced its own legal advice which contends that the EU legal requirement can be met by a little-noticed 2007 law, which allows water wasters to be prosecuted and fined.

The Government doubts whether this will be adequate to meet the EU "polluter pays" demand - but it could be amended and expanded.

But already the prospective compromise met with a cool reception from Mr Coveney.

"The minister is working on a response which is based on the Attorney General's advice and it is difficult to see how this can help," a spokeswoman told the Irish Independent.

Other points of division include the use of water meters currently installed in 48pc of homes and the continued installation programme. Irish Water told the special committee that meters, apart from generating revenue, are of great benefit in the detection of leakage - which claims up to 48pc of the supply.

Fianna Fáil fears that persisting with metering will be seen as a declaration of intent on the future introduction of charges.

The question of refunds is also not entirely resolved.

Irish Independent

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