Wednesday 21 February 2018

FF sides with SF to inflict water defeat on Coveney

Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Steve Humphreys
Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Steve Humphreys

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

The prospect of a general election has moved dramatically closer after Fianna Fáil teamed up with Sinn Féin to inflict an embarrassing water charges defeat on Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

Fine Gael will today refuse to sign-off on a report that ends the existing regime of water charges.

Nonetheless, the minister will be expected to draw up legislation based on the report or else breach the 'confidence and supply' arrangement that sees Fianna Fáil prop up the minority Government.

The row centres on the language used in the document compiled after 20 meetings of the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services Committee.

Fine Gael claimed charges must still apply for "excessive" usage of water in order to comply with EU regulations - but this was rejected by the other parties who said penalties should apply for "wilful/abusive use of water".

Mr Coveney said Fianna Fáil had "fundamentally undermined" an agreement reached by the parties just a week ago.

At one point committee chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh was forced to contact a legal expert in Japan for guidance.

And in a final insult to Mr Coveney, Fianna Fáil backtracked on a previous agreement that it would support the installation of water meters in all newly built homes. Instead there will be an "opt-in" system.

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A majority of committee members also decided that levies for wasting water should not kick in until a person uses 226 litres of water per day.

"The dishonesty of what has happened in the last 24 hours has resulted in an outcome that is satisfactory for nobody," Fine Gael's Colm Brophy said.

He said Fine Gael does not believe the document meets Ireland's legal need to apply a 'polluter pays' policy to water.

However, Fianna Fáil's water spokesman Barry Cowen said a majority of committee members back the report and therefore Mr Coveney must bring forward legislation to reflect this.

The deal between the two parties that led to the formation of the Government last year states: "The Government will facilitate the passage of legislation (whether it be a money bill or otherwise) for the implementation of the recommendations in relation to domestic water charging supported by the Oireachtas (including abolition, a reformed charging regime or other options)."

Mr Cowen said Fine Gael still isn't prepared to accept water charges are gone and was looking for "an element of a back door" to reintroduce them.

Asked whether the row has moved the country closer to an election, he replied: "That's a matter for the party leaders."

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy claimed the report was a "victory" for protesters who took to the streets.

Irish Independent

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