Tuesday 20 March 2018

Fine Gael in state of panic over water charges as FF accuses minister of 'interference'

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh is the committee's chairman Photo: Tom Burke
Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh is the committee's chairman Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor, Paul Melia and Cormac McQuinn

Fine Gael is in a state of panic over water charges with the party now demanding that an expert in EU law provide legal advice to the Oireachtas Water Committee.

The prospect of a general election being prompted by the debacle moved a step closer last night as a war of words erupted between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Committee chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh has told colleagues that he is prepared to allow a "majority report" to be produced if no deal is agreed.

A decision by Housing Minister Simon Coveney to voice his concerns in a letter to Mr Ó Céidigh was dubbed an "interference" by Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen.

Mr Cowen was supported by Solidarity TD and committee member Paul Murphy, who described Mr Coveney's intervention as "unprecedented".

In the letter, sent on Thursday night, Mr Coveney said the proposed regime would place Ireland "at odds" with the EU.

Mr Coveney yesterday defended the move, saying the Government would not introduce flawed legislation aimed at resolving the stalemate just to avoid an election.

Householders who waste or use excessive amounts of water should have to pay a bill, and there was no "moral or legal argument" to justify using taxation to fund "wasteful" use, Mr Coveney said.

Speaking to the Irish Independent in Westport, Mr Coveney said that people were "sick of the argument" and wanted a resolution.

"In my view, and in the view of Fine Gael, people who are wasting water and using excessive amounts of water should have to pay for that," he said.

"I do not see any moral or legal argument that could suggest that general taxation should be funding the excessive or wasteful use of water in households. We have no intention of taking those people to court, we're simply sending them a bill.

"But let me be very clear - I'm not going to produce an outcome to this process which is politically expedient to avoid elections."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who was in Berlin yesterday for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also brushed off suggestions that the row over water would lead to a snap election.

"I expect we will arrive at a conclusion next week that will be in keeping with the requirements of the law at the same time understanding water is a commodity not to be wasted," he said.

His comments come as the Dáil committee was adjourned until next Tuesday, pending legal advice.

But tensions within the committee escalated last night with senior Fine Gael figures expressing concern that the lawyer who advises the committee, David Nolan, has been away all week in Asia.

Fine Gael's Martin Heydon wrote to the committee chairman, echoing Mr Coveney's call to draft in an expert in EU law.

Irish Independent

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