FF abandons water charges talks after Coveney intervenes

Minister writes to Pádraig Ó Céidigh to highlight potential problems with report

Simon Coveney’s correspondence has been strongly criticised by members of the committee. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Simon Coveney’s correspondence has been strongly criticised by members of the committee. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

Fianna Fáil has refused to negotiate with Fine Gael to break the water charges deadlock after an intervention from Minister for Housing Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney wrote to the Oireachtas committee on water charges outlining his concerns over the final recommendations contained in the report and their compliance with European law.

The correspondence was strongly criticised by members of the committee, who insisted it was inappropriate and unnecessary.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said he did not believe the Minister should be involved in the committee’s work at the last minute and was “unprecedented”.

Mr Coveney has been well represented on the committee by his colleagues and should not be getting involved, he said.

The Minister wrote to the chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh on Thursday evening to highlight potential difficulties with the report.

In the letter Mr Coveney outlines his concerns regarding the lack of a charge for excessive usage of water which he says contravenes the European Water Framework Directive and the polluter pays principle.

He urged Mr Ó Céidigh to appoint an expert in EU law to examine the report’s recommendations.

Request

Fine Gael supported that request and the party’s chairman Martin Heydon requested the report’s proposals in the areas of metering and the charging regime be examined.

Mr Heydon said the advice was necessary to ensure members do not make recommendations to the Oireachtas that breach European obligations.

It is understood Mr Ó Céidigh has responded to both pieces of correspondence acknowledging the requests.

The Oireachtas legal office has already appointed a person to examine the report at the committee’s request.

Talks abandoned

Meanwhile, relations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have continued to deteriorate in recent days. Planned weekend discussions between the two parties were abandoned after Mr Coveney’s correspondence.

The dispute is centred on whether there should be a charging regime for those who waste water. Both parties believe in the policy but have differing views on how to penalise such households.

Fine Gael believe the billing system should be retained while Fianna Fail is seeking amendments to the 2007 Water Services Act for fines to be imposed.

Speaking in Co Mayo yesterday Mr Coveney repeated his refusal to introduce legislation that does not sanction those who waste water.

The Minister insisted the recommendations were illegal and would expose Ireland to fines.

The committee meets again on Tuesday to consider the legal advice and vote on the final report.

There is an expectation some members may seek to delay that again but Mr Ó Céidigh, the chairman, is reluctant.