Saturday 18 November 2017

Higher bin charges loom despite deal to defuse Dáil row

Social Democrats co-leaders Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy outline their amendments to Fianna Fáil’s motion on bin charges outside Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Social Democrats co-leaders Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy outline their amendments to Fianna Fáil’s motion on bin charges outside Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor, Paul Melia and Cormac McQuinn

The Government and Fianna Fáil have defused the row over bin charges for now - but tens of thousands of households still face the prospect of larger bills.

A deal struck last night will see the establishment of a new watchdog that will be tasked with ensuring consumers don't fall victim to so-called 'price gouging' by waste collectors.

The body, known as the 'Pricing Watchdog Monitoring Unit', will be given specific powers to tackle emerging cartels in the industry, as well as bringing criminal convictions against firms suspected of price-fixing or collusion.

But half of the country's households will still be forced to switch to a pay-by-weight bin system in a move that left-wing TDs insist will result in significant price hikes.

Efficient

Senior Government figures admitted last night they could not rule out increases in household bills - but insisted the new watchdog will ensure efficient regulation of the market.

"This is all about ensuring the Government is given evidenced-based research about how the market operates. If price-gouging is found to be happening, then we will act," said a well-placed source.

The Government is not ruling out the prospect of setting up a full-blown regulator, as proposed by a Fianna Fáil motion, after the watchdog reports back on market activity.

The Cabinet held an incorporeal meeting last night - ie. over the phone - during which a counter motion was agreed. The meeting took place after hours of back-channel discussions involving Communications Minister Denis Naughten, Fianna Fáil's communication spokesperson Timmy Dooley and other senior figures, including those in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's office.

Mr Dooley last night insisted that if the Government fails to establish a regulator, then the party will introduce its own legislation to that effect.

The watchdog will be made up of officials from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the Department of the Environment, and outside consultants.

Figures from both parties said they believed a fair and reasonable compromise was struck.

The issue of bin charges was discussed at the Fianna Fáil front bench meeting, as well as during Leaders' Questions'.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told his senior colleagues the party should stand firm, adding that Mr Naughten has now struggled with the issue of bins and broadband.

In the Dáil last night, Mr Naughten defended the changes. "We have to make changes and it is only right that the more you produce, the more you should pay. Unless people want to see the re-emergence of landfills in every local authority area, we need collectively to make the transition from taking little notice of what goes into the black bin to being conscious of what we are dumping.

"What we are doing is most certainly not about imposing financial hardship on families."

Sinn Féin's environment spokesperson Brian Stanley claimed the Government has shown little concern for ordinary households.

Mr Stanley said: "The Government are starting at the end of the process and putting the cost on the householder. Instead, they should consider putting the burden on the manufacturer of excessive packaging in the first instance."

The proposals agreed by the two parties were passed in the Dáil last night.

Irish Independent

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