Coveney may turn the tables on FF in water charges row

Housing Minister Coveney

Niall O'Connor

Fianna Fail will be told to draft its own legislation to remove water charges as the latest crisis to hit the fragile Government continues.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney is prepared to turn the tables on Micheal Martin's party if it refuses to back down in the water row.

Such a move would represent an unprecedented shifting of power within the Dail.

As Fine Gael and Fianna Fail threatened each other with an election, Government sources said they will latch on to the word "facilitate" in the confidence and supply arrangement between the two parties.

Fianna Fail water spokesman Barry Cowen has said the minority Government will collapse if Mr Coveney does not legislate for changes to the future funding of water.

Mr Coveney has insisted he will not abolish water charges in their entirety because it would result in massive EU fines.

He said it would be "very unreasonable" for Fianna Fail to demand that he introduce legislation, which the Attorney General has ruled to be illegal based on EU commitments.

Sources said Mr Coveney may try to avoid an election by putting the onus back on Fianna Fail to find a legal way of abolishing charges.

One source said the minister is prepared to tell Fianna Fail to bring its own legislation to the Dail, where the Government would "facilitate" its passage by allowing debating time.

If the bill was passed, it would be up to President Michael D Higgins to decide whether to sign it into law.

"The agreement says what it says, which is the Government will facilitate the passage of legislation," said Enda Kenny in the Dail yesterday.


"We also have an agreement in respect of the support of the major opposition party in passing the budget, which is facilitating the budget without writing it."

The dispute now centres on whether households that waste water are hit with charges.

Fianna Fail insists the 2007 Water Services Act allowed fines of up to €5,000 if households abuse water, but Mr Coveney said there is "no real mechanism to deliver that" without water meters.