Friday 20 April 2018

I won't be 'bounced' into holding a referendum on water, insists Coveney

Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Alan Place
Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Alan Place
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has insisted he will not be "bounced" into holding a referendum on public ownership of the water network.

This was a key recommendation of the Expert Group and a Dáil Committee established to examine the future of water services.

Mr Coveney faced sharp criticism from TDs and senators over delays in securing legal advice on how concerns about private water schemes would be addressed.

Last November, Independent TD Joan Collins tabled a bill which called for public ownership of the network to be inserted into the Constitution, stating the Government would be "collectively responsible" for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system, and that it remain in public ownership.

But Mr Coveney and his officials have raised concerns that issues could arise in relation to private group water schemes, infrastructure on privately owned land and treatment plants operated by private companies on behalf of Irish Water. He said that until he received legal advice from the Attorney General, he could not proceed with a referendum.

"I will not be bounced into something which I regard as being not fully legally tested," he said.

"People will have to be patient on how to improve the wording. If it's not necessary, we can proceed without too many changes. It's the Government who will be blamed if we get this wrong, and not Deputy Collins, with respect."

He also said that changing the Constitution was a "big deal", and that a mistake would be "difficult to get right".

Deputy Collins said her bill was concerned only with public water schemes, and that enshrining ownership in the Constitution would be a "well respected" decision across the world.

She said inserting it into the Constitution would effectively mean that "water almost hugs the Government and says you need to protect me".

She added that advice from senior counsel was that private schemes were protected.

Irish Independent

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