Taoiseach: Cabinet didn’t have time to discuss water charges

Government sources say a second Cabinet meeting may be held later this week on issue

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The Cabinet did not even discuss water charges at its meeting earlier today, Mr Kenny revealed in the Dáil this evening. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The Cabinet did not even discuss water charges at its meeting earlier today, Mr Kenny revealed in the Dáil this evening. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 18:57

The Cabinet did not even discuss water charges at its meeting earlier today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed in the Dáil this evening.

“We had a very long agenda,’’ he said.

The Cabinet was expected to discuss the issue at its morning meeting, and Ministers had not ruled out in advance a final decision being made. Earlier, Government sources said no decision had been reached on the issue at today’s Cabinet meeting, adding a second meeting could be held later this week.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil this afternoon that certainty would be provided for people on the issue “as quickly as possible”.

Replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, he said a number of issues relating to water charges were being teased out properly. These related to the progress in water-metering and affordability, he added.

The Taoiseach said Fianna Fáil’s proposal was to have a €400 charge, with no discretion or rebate. Mr Martin insisted this was incorrect, adding that the issue should be debated by the House.

Mr Adams said Tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had initiated a belated negotiation of the average figure of €240 by sheer weight of public anger.

Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore yesterday refused to commit themselves to a time frame for a resolution of the issue.

“The Government are considering a number of details in respect of water and we hope to conclude that matter very shortly,” Mr Kenny said.

Mr Gilmore added that he hoped the Government would arrive at a conclusion “reasonably quickly”.

This morning, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said the most important thing would be to make the “right decision” on water charges.

“The objective of the Labour Party is to ensure that while water charges have to be introduced, that they’re done in as fair and as equitable a way as possible,” he said.

He highlighted the importance of affordability, saying people are already “pushed to the pin of their collar”.

“We need to ensure this is done in as fair a way as we can and have all the issues addressed before we present a comprehensive package,” he said. “I think we’re very close to that point now.”

Earlier this morning, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said he expected a “cordial and professional” discussion on water charges. He denied that there was tension within the Cabinet and said he hoped some agreement on the question of water charges could be reached at today’s meeting.

The charges

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, who was also at the Mullingar event, confirmed the issue will be discussed at Cabinet today and said he expected the details will be agreed this week so that the charges, which will average €240 a house, can be implemented.

Mr Hogan has been working on proposals designed to provide relief from water charges for people living on fixed incomes as well as the acceleration of the meter installation programme to reduce the number of households that will face assessed charges.

Standing charge

However, a Labour demand for the abolition or reduction of a potential €50 a year standing charge per household has proved more difficult to resolve.

The imposition of a standing charge is a matter for the regulator and not the Government.

Mr Hogan’s original proposal was that the regulator should be directed that the standing charge should be no higher than €50 and that it should be subject to public consultation.

A lower standing charge would involve a smaller contribution from second homes, holiday homes and unoccupied rental properties, resulting in bigger bills for larger households.

Agreement has proved easier to reach on exempting a range of households from the charges.

It is expected that people on fixed incomes such as pensioners and those on disability allowances will be given relief on the water charge which is likely to be included in the household budget package which covers electricity and gas bills.

It is expected that the funding for the measure will come from the Department of Social Protection budget but extra resources will be made available from the exchequer to cover the cost.

Mr Hogan is also expected to propose that the majority of households, who will be asked to pay an assessed charge pending the installation of water meters, will be entitled to claim a rebate when metering comes into operation.