Monday 18 December 2017

Varadkar rows in behind leadership rival in rejecting FF call to scrap water bills

Leo Varadkar has backed Simon Coveney on the issue – and is keen to avoid the row sparking a general election. Photo: Collins
Leo Varadkar has backed Simon Coveney on the issue – and is keen to avoid the row sparking a general election. Photo: Collins

Cormac McQuinn, Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Leo Varadkar has backed Simon Coveney, his main rival in the upcoming Fine Gael leadership battle, in rejecting Fianna Fáil's demand that water charges be scrapped outright.

The Social Protection Minister last night gave his unequivocal support for the principle of charging households for excessive use.

Mr Varadkar's backing will be seen as significant as Mr Coveney comes under fire from Opposition TDs for insisting he won't legislate for the total abolition of charges, arguing it would breach EU law.

Mr Coveney's remarks were branded "premature, unprecedented and nothing but political" by Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen, coming as it did before the Oireachtas water committee completed its work.

Mr Cowen warned the dispute could spark an election. He said Mr Coveney's stance would amount to him tearing up the confidence and supply agreement between the two parties.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Coveney of intervening "in a most inappropriate manner".

However, Mr Coveney stayed firm on his position and last night it was confirmed that the two main contenders to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny are united in their opposition to Fianna Fáil's demand.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said he supported charging for excessive use of water.

"Average taxpayers should not be expected to pay for other people's misuse of this precious resource," a statement said.

Read more: Snap election threat 'if Coveney does not accept water recommendations' - Fianna Fáil warns

The spokesman also made the point that charges for excess use incentivised the fixing of leaks and provided a revenue stream that could be reinvested in the water network.

But Mr Varadkar was also clear that an election should be avoided over the issue. "The people of Ireland don't want an election and nor does Fine Gael," the statement said, adding that Fine Gael wants to work with other parties to "find a solution".

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe also weighed in behind Mr Coveney. Both cited EU law in their argument for why the polluter pays principle - and charges for wasteful use - must be put in place.

"The legal advice available outlines that this is not a position compliant with the Water Framework Directive, therefore we cannot support it," Ms Fitzgerald's spokesman said.

Mr Donohoe's spokeswoman said "Fine Gael is anxious to work with other parties to find a solution" and referred to the committee process as the means for reaching a compromise.

Irish Independent

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