Monday 22 January 2018

FF warns Coveney not to try delaying tactics amid final push for water deal

Standing firm: Simon Coveney. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Standing firm: Simon Coveney. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Niall O'Connor and Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil plans to demand that Housing Minister Simon Coveney fast-track the introduction of legislation to end water charges.

The party won't tolerate any attempt to stall new laws on the back of the final report from the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services Committee, which is due to vote today.

Sources say Mr Coveney is determined to "hold his ground" in the battle with Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen over the language used in the report.

Despite behind the scenes talks between party officials on both sides last night, they said the fight will go down to the wire.

Fine Gael sources said "a couple of small amendments" would get them over the line but Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea turned up the heat saying he needs to get on with planning for the legislation.

Mr O'Dea said he expects the legislation to be drawn up as "quickly as possible" despite Fine Gael's claims that it will not stand up to legal scrutiny.

"I'm confident, following the legal advice received, that the recommendations will be passed by the majority of the committee.

"When that happens, the Government will be obliged to bring in legislation as quickly as possible to reflect the recommendations, as per the confidence and supply arrangement," Mr O'Dea said.

The key difference between the two parties continues to centre on the definition of "excessive" usage of water.

Read more: Comment - Parties must stop posturing on water and work together for the common good

Fresh legal advice will be distributed to members of the cross-party committee today but Fianna Fáil insists it is up to Mr Coveney to find a formula of words in the legislation that will make Ireland compliant with EU rules.

One Fine Gael source indicated last night they would welcome a postponement of today's vote if there was a mood to find a resolution to the dispute.

However, Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin said "voters will punish Fianna Fáil for any back door agreement with Fine Gael on water charges".

"The charge must be scraped, mandatory metering must end, refunds must be paid, parity for group water schemes must be introduced, the funding regime as recommended by the water committee must be put in place, and a referendum enshrining public ownership of water and water services in the Constitution must be held.

"There can be no backtracking by Fianna Fáil on these core elements of the water committee's report," he said.

The committee has a deadline of Friday to deliver its report.

Despite the ongoing dispute, Mr Coveney claimed there was "a lot of goodwill" between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and he hoped for "a mutually satisfactory settlement on the issue".

Meanwhile, Professor of European Constitutional and Economic Law at UCD Gavin Barrett has warned that Ireland is facing the prospect of major fines from the EU.

"The example I'd use is that it's like driving a car at 100mph and you see a garda down the road with the speed gun. He might prosecute you or he might just not," he said.

However, he added that even if the European Commission decided to turn a blind eye to Ireland's water regime under the Lisbon Treaty, other EU countries could take a case to the European Court of Justice.

"It hasn't really happened because it's seen as an unfriendly act against each other," he said.

Irish Independent

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