Ministers hold emergency talks over waste charges

Officials draft countermotion to Fianna Fáil proposal for independent regulator

Minister for Communications and Environment Denis Naughten: his pay-by-weight waste  arrangements   could be the “next big political battleground after water charges”, warned  a Government source. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Communications and Environment Denis Naughten: his pay-by-weight waste arrangements could be the “next big political battleground after water charges”, warned a Government source. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Government was on Monday night forced into emergency talks in an effort to head off an Opposition challenge on proposed new waste charges.

The pay-by-weight arrangements announced by Minister for Communications and Environment Denis Naughten last week would be the “next big political battleground after water charges”, a senior Government source warned.

Fianna Fáil has tabled a private members’ motion calling for an independent waste regulator to be established. The party, which plans to raise the motion in the Dáil on Tuesday, said such an office would protect householders from sharp increases in bills.

Officials from the Department of Communications and the Environment spent Monday drafting a countermotion, which had to be approved collectively by Cabinet.

However, as the Cabinet meeting this week has been deferred until Wednesday to accommodate the visit on Tuesday of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, officials had to quickly convene a late-night meeting by telephone.

Highly placed Government sources said the Coalition was expecting a “political onslaught” on the issue this week.

Sinn Féin also tried to table a private members’ motion for this week but was unable to do so as Fianna Fáil’s motion had priority. Instead, it has tabled an amendment calling on the Government to withdraw the new charging regime.

Sinn Féin spokesman Brian Stanley described the Fianna Fáil move as a “spoiler motion designed to let the Government off the hook”.

A Fianna Fáil spokeswoman said a regulator would ensure there was no price gouging. The party agreed with charging in principle but said a regulator would ensure the system was fair.

Campaign against charges

Sinn Féin has already signalled a campaign against the charges. It tabled motions opposing the move at council meetings in Dublin on Monday night and is also staging a protest outside the Dáil on Tuesday.

In the wake of the acquittals in the Jobstown case, the Solidarity-People Before Profit alliance has also announced a concerted boycott campaign, similar to that against water charges.

Mr Naughten will reject the Fianna Fáil motion and the Sinn Féin amendment. It is understood his countermotion will argue that setting up an independent regulator’s office would be costly and time-consuming, and would also result in punitive costs being imposed on some of the smaller of the 67 domestic waste companies operating in the State.

Officials said on Monday there was no evidence of any waste company taking advantage of the changed regime. “If there is evidence that will support the necessity of intervention, we will intervene,” said one official.