Wednesday 24 January 2018

Fianna Fáil attacks 'ridiculous' Varadkar over water charges

Leo Varadkar (Picture: Tom Burke)
Leo Varadkar (Picture: Tom Burke)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen has said Leo Varadkar looks "ridiculous" for his stance on water charges after it was claimed the minister said meters could be Fine Gael's "e-voting machines multiplied by 10".

The two parties are at war over water again, despite agreeing to suspend charges for nine months while a commission decides on the future funding of infrastructure.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin revealed yesterday that during discussions on forming a minority government, Mr Varadkar likened the installation of water meters to the e-voting scandal which saw 7,500 machines bought but never used.

The machines, purchased by Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fáil government in 2002, cost the State €54m but were eventually sold for just €9.30 each.

Mr Martin yesterday reignited the war of words between the two parties over water charges saying Mr Varadkar had particular issues with reaching a compromise on the issue.

"What he said during the talks was that, as far as Leo could see, was that water charges and water installations in particular was their e-voting machines multiplied by 10.

"In other words the investment of €500m in water meters was a potential waste of money because it's a flat charge now and the meters are not being used," Mr Martin said on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke'.

In response Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent that the Fianna Fáil leader "may not have the full picture" on what happened during the talks.

"Micheál Martin was not present for any of the talks so he may not have a full picture of the discussions," the new Social Protection Minister said. "The point I was making was that €500m worth of public money has being spent putting water meters into the ground.

"Metering is the most effective way to identify leaks and promote conservation by allowing people to monitor how much water they use. I think it would be a real waste if they weren't used."

Separately Fine Gael sources said the document outlining the deal between the parties on the operation of the minority government is "largely about water at the insistence of Fianna Fáil".

Barry Cowen, who was present during the talks, backed his party leader saying his comments were "an accurate reflection" of conversations that took place during the course of the debate.

"He (Varadkar) described our stance on water as ridiculous, who's ridiculous now? He can't deny the accuracy of the comment or the statement," Mr Cowen said.

During his radio interview, Mr Martin also said that a deal had to be done on water in order to ensure the new Government has some chance of survival. Without the suspension of charges he argued that "you simply would not have a government that could last six months".

He said the Government would have faced a series of motions on water charges that Fianna Fáil would not be in a position to block - but added that he was happy with the deal.

"To me as an experienced political practitioner it was obvious that if water charges were not dealt with in advance there would be no sustainable government," he said.

Asked if charges are likely to return after the nine months' suspension, Mr Martin said it was likely the suspension period would be extended. "The regime that we've experienced in the last while is gone. It depends on the Dáil, obviously there is a Dáil committee to be formed."

Irish Independent

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