Dáil votes to abolish current water charges regime

Minister to consider how to issue refunds after House votes to accept Oireachtas report

Fine Gael, its Independent Government partners and Fianna Fáil backed the report on the future funding of water as the Dáil accepted it by 96 votes to 48. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fine Gael, its Independent Government partners and Fianna Fáil backed the report on the future funding of water as the Dáil accepted it by 96 votes to 48. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

The current water charges regime has been formally abolished after the Dáil accepted the report of the Oireachtas committee on water charges by 96 votes to 48.

Fine Gael, its Independent Government partners and Fianna Fáil backed the controversial report, and their vote means 92 per cent of people on a public mains system will pay no water charges.

Sinn Féin, Labour, Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Green Party, Independents4Change and other Independents including Thomas Pringle, Catherine Connolly, Michael Fitzmaurice, Michael Collins, Séamus Healy and Mattie McGrath voted against accepting the report.

The report will now be considered by Minister for Housing Simon Coveney who is to consult the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance about the best way to deal with refunds to people who have paid their water charges.

The €100 conservation grant paid to households is expected to be deducted from refunds.

The report, as well as recommending refunds, recommends a levy for excessive usage of water, installation of meters in all new buildings, and a referendum to enshrine Irish Water in public ownership.

Major dispute

Thirteen of the 20 members of the Oireachtas committee accepted the final report, the subject of a major dispute over the past 10 days between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil before they finally reached a compromise.

Mr Coveney told the Dáil during a debate on the report on Wednesday night that the deal agreed on water charges was a “victory for sensible politics”.

But he stressed that significant investment was required in the water infrastructure to address years of under-investment.

“We cannot walk away from our obligations, including those we face from the EU water framework directive,” he said.

Mr Coveney said that the earlier draft of the committee’s report caused Fine Gael and the Government concern because it would fail to satisfy the State’s EU obligations with the likelihood of significant fines.

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen told the debate that 92 per cent of households would not pay for water and the remaining 8 per cent would have the opportunity to apply for exemptions on grounds such as having a large family or medical condition.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had earlier told his parliamentary party meeting that people would see over time that water charges had ended and that the party had stayed true to its commitment.

Excessive water use

However, Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said he believed many of the arguments in the committee would be replayed on the floor of the Dáil because there was no agreement on how to measure excessive use of water.

Speaking during the debate on the report he said the excessive use of water would only be applied to households that had meters and on that basis only 60 per cent of households would be subject to the rules.

Mr Ó Broin said it might be unconstitutional and it was certainly unfair.

Labour and the Green Party rejected the report because of the inclusion, at Fianna Fáil’s insistence of the 2007 Water Services Act, to penalise water wasters who are not compliant within six months of warnings.

The legislation involves criminal sanction but Labour and the Greens insist that water is not a criminal issue but a matter of fines and that it is an inefficient way to deal with the problem. The legislation is expected to be amended.