Saturday 16 December 2017

Water-wasters could now be slapped with 'penalty point' fines

Simon Coveney doesn’t believe FF’s legal advice is credible Picture: Steve Humphreys
Simon Coveney doesn’t believe FF’s legal advice is credible Picture: Steve Humphreys

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

Water wasters will be slapped with fines - similar to those incurred by speeding motorists - under plans proposed by Fianna Fáil, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Legal advice commissioned by the party proposes the introduction of a "fixed charge notices system akin to that operated at present in the sphere of motor vehicles" in order to deal with those who waste water.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are at loggerheads over the water charges issue, which continues to threaten the stability of the Government.

The stand-off centres upon how to deal with so-called 'excessive usage'.

Fine Gael wants to introduce legislation that penalises people who waste water - but Fianna Fáil insists such an offence can be dealt with by a law introduced in 2007 called the Water Services Act.

At present, the law provides for a €5,000 maximum fine and /or a prison sentence of up to three months for offenders.

The legal advice, seen by this newspaper, proposes that the legislation should be strengthened in order to ensure Ireland is compliant with EU law.

With the row now set to spill into next week, Housing Minister Simon Coveney yesterday consulted Attorney General Máire Whelan, while Fianna Fáil obtained further legal advice on the matter.

Lawyers Darren Lehane and Conleth Bradley propose a fine system similar to the one that applies to motorists.

"However, we are of the view that it might be considered appropriate to improve the effectiveness of the system as a whole by introducing, for example, a fixed charge notice system akin to that operated at present in the sphere of motor vehicles whereby an offender would be given an opportunity to pay a fine first before the matter proceeds to court," the advice stated.

"The amount of the fine could be structured on a graded basis commensurate with the amount of waste involved."

Under the FF proposed system, people will avoid court appearances and instead receive the fine in the post.

The news comes as Mr Coveney held talks with the Attorney General as the Government aims to defuse the ongoing water row.

Mr Coveney last night said he was "satisfied" that the Government's approach was the right one and would ensure Ireland was not opened up to fines and potential legal action by the European Union.

In a clear swipe, the Cork South Central TD said he did not believe Fianna Fáil's legal advice was credible.

"I am not prepared to go down the route of prosecutions," Mr Coveney said, adding that Fianna Fáil's approach should be seen as trying to "make criminals out of people".

He said the Government's position would ensure the taxpayer was not left to pick up the tab for the wasting of water.

"Why should everyone else in the State pay for the guy who leaves the tap on?" Mr Coveney said.

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney gave his clearest indication yet that he is willing to budge on the issue of refunds. The minister said he had an "open mind" on the issue, which he said would be worked through next week by the committee.

Irish Independent

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