News Irish Water Crisis

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Water betrayal: ‘Refund water charges to households who paid’

Ministers and Independents say repay one million households

Heather Humphreys and Alan Kelly (Inset)
Heather Humphreys and Alan Kelly (Inset)

Philip Ryan and Ronald Quinlan

Two Government ministers last night insisted that the almost one million households which paid water charges should be fully refunded if, as expected, the charges are abolished during the lifetime of the next government.

A number of Independent TDs, on whom Fine Gael will be relying to form a minority government, also called for refunds.

Acting environment minister Alan Kelly said: "In the end, if charges are abolished, people are entitled to a refund, otherwise Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will reward non-payers."

And acting arts minister Heather Humphreys also said households should be reimbursed if charges are ultimately abolished.

Acting environment minister Alan Kelly: 'In the end, if charges are abolished, people are entitled to a refund, otherwise Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will reward non-payers.' Photo: Steve Humphreys
Acting environment minister Alan Kelly: 'In the end, if charges are abolished, people are entitled to a refund, otherwise Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will reward non-payers.' Photo: Steve Humphreys

"If Irish Water is abolished and there is no more paying for water, to be fair to the people who paid, they should be refunded," Ms Humphreys told the Sunday Independent.

Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney said he will be raising the issue of refunds and more funding for group water schemes with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny when he meets him tomorrow to discuss government formation.

His comments were supported by Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, who will also be central to Mr Kenny's bid to be re-elected Taoiseach.

Writing in today's Sunday Independent, Mr Kelly also launched a stinging attack on Fine Gael who he said will lead the first government in the history of the State to "reward lawbreakers" who did not pay their water bills.

"The impact of rewarding lawbreakers will have major implications for our country in future years," he writes.

"What next - will future governments just buckle under pressure about any tax or charge that's unpopular now?" he adds.

Even in Mr Kenny's own partym there are calls from ministers and TDs for households to be reimbursed if the Dail eventually votes to abolish water charges.

However, last night, acting transport minister Paschal Donohoe intervened to call on those who have not paid water bills to pay despite the looming suspension of charges.

Mr Donohoe insisted he opposes abolishing water charges and said he hoped to make this point once the Dail resumes.

"In the meantime, those who have not paid their bills under the existing regime should," he told the Sunday Independent.

In an interview in today's Sunday Independent, the former Secretary General at the Department of Finance, John Moran, warns that the abolition of water charges will lead to increased income taxes and cuts to vital public services, including health.

Referring to the consquences of abolishing direct water charges, he says: "Within the envelope of expenditure; if we want to spend a billion euro on Irish Water or on the provision of water infrastructure, we will have to stop spending a billion euro somewhere else."

PEDAL POWER: Enda and Fionnuala Kenny at the Mayo Pink Ribbon Charity Cycle yesterday. Photo: Alison Laredo
PEDAL POWER: Enda and Fionnuala Kenny at the Mayo Pink Ribbon Charity Cycle yesterday. Photo: Alison Laredo

On Friday, Mr Kenny signed off on suspending water charges in return for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin supporting a Fine Gael minority government.

The agreement will see charges suspended for nine months while an independent commission reviews the payment scheme. An Oireachtas committee will examine the commission's findings.

The Dail will then vote on the commission's findings with the Fine Gael government bound to support the recommendations.

However, Fianna Fail does not have to support the commission's findings and is expected to vote against any legislation which would see water charges re-introduced.

With the majority of Dail TDs opposed to water charges, it is unlikely any vote on bringing back charges will pass.

The Sunday Independent also understands Fianna Fail TDs have been telling grassroot members they have affectively abolished charges despite only signing up to a temporary suspension.

Meanwhile, the Dail is expected to amend legislation to pursue around one million people who have not paid water charges. The Civil Debt law was introduced last year to help creditors, including Irish Water, recover debts by way of attachment orders.

In effect, though, it allows Irish Water to seek an attachment of earnings order for a deduction from a debtor's wages from the District Court.

It applies to debts of between €500 and €4,000. Social welfare recipients may also have deductions made from their payments. The new Dail is expected to lower the €500 threshold to €100.

So while the commission is preparing a report, and an Oireachtas committee, and eventually the Dail itself considers that report, Irish Water will be pursuing historical debts from an estimated one million people for a charge that will eventually be abolished.

In today's Sunday Independent, Mr Kelly says people are "being made fools of" and insists water charges will be suspended "indefinitely".

"Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will hide behind a commission whose recommendations won't see the light of day in this Dail. Meanwhile we are losing €1.4bn in investment with waste and water projects around the country being delayed or scrapped," he writes.

At Fine Gael's parliamentary party meeting last week, junior minister Michael Ring also warned that water charges will never return if they are suspended.

Mr Ring insisted if this happened, all those who paid should be fully reimbursed. His comments echoed those of jobs minister Richard Bruton, who also said refunds should be issued during an interview on RTE Radio One.

Fine Gael Wexford TD Michael D'Arcy told the Sunday Independent that if charges are abolished people should "get their money back".

"It will have a consequence for the Exchequer but that is a result of the Left winning the battlE on water," Mr D'Arcy said.

He also said people on group water schemes should be treated equally and not be expected to pay for water if the charges are abolished.

"It's only a matter of time till someone on a group scheme makes a legal challenge to having to pay while others don't," he said

Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney said he will be raising the issue of refunds and group water schemes with Mr Kenny when he meets him tomorrow to discuss government formation.

Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae also said he would like to see refunds if water bills are ultimately abolished.

Fianna Fail's official position is not to refund charges, however, Carlow Kilkenny TD John McGuinness believes people should get their money back.

"If the deal for government is that we suspend water charges and then the commission finds 'no more water charges' and the Dail decides it, then the people who paid [their water charges] should be repaid. You can't make fish of one and fowl of the other, that's my view," he told the Sunday Independent.

"I'm hoping the commission will do its work within a matter of months and then that matter will come to a Dail committee and to the Dail for a vote. If it goes the way the Dail is made up, then we'll presume that the water charges will be no more. In that case, I believe those who paid their water charges should be refunded," Mr McGuinness said. Then nightly sings the staring owl,: Tu-who;; Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,; While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Sunday Independent

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