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Water protests infiltrated by dissidents as meters on hold


Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton. Picture: Tom Burke

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton. Picture: Tom Burke

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton. Picture: Tom Burke

The installation of water meters in trouble spots in Dublin has been halted in the wake  of protests turning violent, the Irish Independent has learned.

The move comes as the Coalition is "actively examining" a toughening up of the water charges regime, to allow the deduction of payment from the salaries and social welfare of householders who refuse to pay their bills.

In a sinister twist, dissident republicans have infiltrated groups protesting against water charges.

They are being blamed for a barrage of attacks on gardai trying to safeguard staff installing the meters.

A decision has now been taken by the installation company, GMC Sierra, to postpone further work in key areas until they have reviewed the impact of a High Court order creating a 20-metre exclusion zone around water meter installations.

The development has resulted in the cancellation of planned works today and it is now not clear whether these will resume on Monday.

Senior garda officers said last night that they continued to be available to ensure that the law was not broken in the trouble spots, "if and when required".

Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey, who is in charge of policing in the capital, will today hold talks with representatives of Irish Water and GMC Sierra to discuss how the exclusion zones should be operated.

It has emerged that known activists associated with members of the Real IRA faction, formerly led by Alan Ryan, have hijacked a series of protests on the northside of Dublin.

The violence escalated on Wednesday night outside Coolock garda station on the northside of Dublin where a large group of demonstrators, mainly comprising genuine householders protesting against the proposed charges, had gathered.

During the violence, which involved the dissidents, a garda inspector was badly attacked, a female garda had a car window smashed and a volley of missiles was fired at the garda station.

Several of those taking part in the water meter protests have been arrested in the past by gardai investigating outbreaks of violence at other demonstrations.

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Many of them are well known to the gardai for their connections with associates of Ryan, who was shot dead by criminals on the northside of the city in September 2012.

"There is a hardcore group, who turn up anywhere they think they can exploit a legitimate demonstration and cause trouble," one officer said.

"They are like a rent-a-crowd mob," he added.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday blamed what he called a "sinister fringe" for hijacking the water protests.

He said he feared a repeat of the violent scenes at Coolock garda station and was worried that it was only a matter of time before someone got hurt.

As the Government continues to prepare its new water charges plan, the reduction of water pressure or disconnection of the water supply for those who won't pay is being ruled out.

However, the Coalition is looking at strengthening the penalties for non-payment.

Involving the Revenue Commissioners in the collection process has already been ruled out, but sources insisted that targeting wages and dole payments is firmly on the table.

The attachment to earnings would be on foot of court orders.

However, Environment Minister Alan Kelly is understood to be keen to avoid any such approach that will antagonise an electorate that is becoming increasingly hostile to water charges.

"There are mechanisms which would allow us to touch people's welfare payments but it would have to be done sensitively," a source said.

Senior Labour Party sources say agreeing the latest water charges package has proven "extremely difficult", but claim there is no "fundamental disagreement" between Tanaiste Joan Burton and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Ms Burton yesterday fuelled speculation that relations were fraught over the issue. The Labour leader was asked on three occasions whether the fiasco would "sink" the Government but refused to rule out such a notion.

There is now a consensus in both Fine Gael and Labour that the final package will not be agreed until the week after next - despite growing unrest among backbenchers in both parties.

A senior Labour source said the Tanaiste was determined to ensure the negotiations were not rushed.

"We have one shot at this, we need to get it right," the source said.