Coveney warns against ‘legally unsound’ water report

Fianna Fáil says penalties for excessive use of water should be covered in the legislation

Image from a Right2Water marchin  Dublin. File photograph Nick Bradshaw

Image from a Right2Water marchin Dublin. File photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has insisted he will not legislate to implement the recommendations of Oireachtas committee on water if they are legally unsound.

The dispute between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the future of water charges will come to a head today as the committee’s final report is voted on.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Coveney said he wanted to seek a solution that had broad political consensus.

However. he stressed that he would not introduce or facilitate legislation that breached European law or contravened the advice of the Attorney General.

Mr Coveney said he would introduce legislate to implement some of the proposals contained in the report.

However, he could not facilitate proposals which he believes would expose the country to significant fines.

The dispute between Mr Coveney and Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen had escalated over the weekend.

Both sought to defuse the row yesterday ahead of the final meeting of the committee.

The absence of a charge for excessive usage from the report remains the point of contention between both sides.

Fianna Fáil has said the details of teh charge were a matter for the legislation that will follow the report, rather than the committee.

Speaking in Co Cork on Monday, Mr Coveney said he was eager to reach a solution to the dispute between the two parties. He insisted he would not support any measure that breached European law, but was eager for the Oireachtas committee to conclude its work.

“Once the report is finalised, sent to the Oireachtas, and voted on, then I will send it to the Attorney General’s office for very detailed legal scrutiny, and we will put together a piece of legislation that I hope reflects the main ground of political opinion in relation to how we move on from water.

Legally sound

“At the same time it has to be a piece of legislation that is legally sound. I don’t know how many times I have to say it. Yes, I want to reflect consensus to ensure we can move on from water, but, more importantly, I have to do what is right by the country.”

Fianna Fáil also sought to defuse the row between the two sides, insisting it would not ask Government to legislate against the advice of the Attorney General Máire Whelan.

However, the party’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath said he did not believe Ms Whelan could have an issue with a report from an Oireachtas committee. He stressed Ms Whelan’s concerns would only become an issue when legislation was drafted, and insisted Fianna Fáil was willing to work with the Government to ensure its compliance with EU law.

The Oireachtas committee on water charges will meet Tuesday to vote on the final report. Fine Gael and Labour will not support the final recommendations.

Legal advice sought by Fine Gael will also be considered by members on Tuesday. It is understood the legal opinion offered by the senior counsel will reflect similar advice given to the committee.

Compliance

The Irish Times has established the senior counsel will say it is a matter for the legislation to ensure Ireland is in compliance with the Water Framework Directive.

Committee chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh is expected to insist a vote is held on Tuesday, and for the report to be sent to the Dáil for consideration. The Government will then have one month to bring forward legislation to implement the report if it is to remain compliant with the confidence and supply arrangement reached with Fianna Fáil.

Mr Cowen said he was eager for the committee to conclude its work on Tuesday and move towards legislating for its final recommendations. He said it was always his party’s position that wastage of water should incur a fine.