Monday 23 October 2017

Legal advice clears way for FF-FG to strike water charge deal

Good Friday deadline for agreement

senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh Picture: Tom Burke
senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh Picture: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor and Ryan Nugent

The prospect of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil striking a deal on water charges has moved a step closer after new legal advice indicated that existing laws could be used to issue penalties for wasting water.

But the advice given to the Oireachtas water committee warns the 2007 Water Services Act would need to be significantly strengthened to ensure Ireland complies with EU laws.

The issue of charging for so-called "excessive usage" has been a major sticking point between the two main parties in recent weeks.

Fine Gael initially favoured the introduction of new legislation to tackle the wasting of water.

But Fianna Fáil insisted the 2007 laws are adequate to address the issue.

Ahead of the meeting of the committee today, it can be revealed that committee chairman senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh has obtained legal advice from the Oireachtas legal services that confirms the 2007 act can be used.

But sources emphasised last night it will have to be strengthened by way of amendments in order to meet the State's requirements under the so-called 'Polluter Pays Principle'.

The 20 members of the committee have until Good Friday to strike a deal, which will be then voted on in the Dáil.

Aside from the issue of excessive usage, metering also remains a sticking point.

Fine Gael insists that meters should be installed for all new builds.

"This is significant in terms of conservation and it is something we feel strongly about," party chairman Martin Heydon told the Irish Independent last night.

However, Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said his party wantde to halt the metering programme and instead prioritise so-called 'district metering'.

This is an issue that will need to be addressed for a deal to be agreed.

Meanwhile, the focus on the Fine Gael leadership continued yesterday after Leo Varadkar said he wanted to turn the party into a "fighting force again".

But Mr Varadkar, who outlined his tax vision in Saturday's Irish Independent, said he believed it would be months before a contest takes place.

"I do think whenever this contest does happen, it may well be months before it does happen, I think it's really important it should be about ideas for the future.

"How we're going to make our country better and bring it forward, and how we're going to reform our party and turn it into a fighting force again. That's a while away yet though," Mr Varadkar told reporters.

Speaking alongside Mr Varadkar, Education Minister Richard Bruton once again refused to rule himself out of the contest.

"I do recognise that there is a very important leadership contest coming up. I think that this country is at a pivotal moment, you only have to look at our economic relations with our nearest neighbour the UK, with the US, with Europe. These are all pivotal events," Mr Bruton said.

"We're going to have to be robust to take those on and I think it's important opportunity for the party to debate, as Leo says, what's the direction that we as a country should take to ensure we are in the best possible position to deal with these challenges.

"I think a leadership period is going to be a very important opportunity to get ideas out and to carve out a path for the future of this country. We are fortunate to have plenty of quality in Fine Gael to shape that," he said.

Irish Independent

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