FG and FF refuse to rule out election over water charges

Parties clash as Oireachtas committee fails to agree position on excessive use

A protester during a demonstration against water charges on O’Connell Street in Dublin in 2014. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

A protester during a demonstration against water charges on O’Connell Street in Dublin in 2014. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil refused to rule out a general election over water charges as the two sides remained at loggerheads over possible levies for excessive usage.

The Oireachtas committee on domestic water services failed to reach agreement on their final report after a 2½-hour meeting on Wednesday.

Members engaged in tense exchanges at the private meeting with Fine Gael members accusing Fianna Fáil of hijacking the work of the committee.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen both indicated they were willing to take the matter to the country if necessary.

Mr Coveney said he could not knowingly legislate for a position that was in breach of European law and that was against the advice of the Attorney General.

The Minister said he could not sit idly by and see a situation develop where Ireland received daily fines from Europe.

“This has become very political but the policy has to be right. I want to see a resolution and Fine Gael is willing to work with all sides to ensure we get this right,” he said. “But it would be wrong and irresponsible of me to introduce or sign legislation that is not compliant with European law. I cannot do it.”

Mr Coveney confirmed he has asked Attorney General Máire Whelan to allow her officials to meet Fianna Fáil’s legal team to outline her legal position.

The committee also agreed to seek fresh legal advice from the House’s legal team to ensure it was not making recommendations that were in breach of the law.

Public clash

The two parties continued to publicly clash over the future of domestic water services and in particular whether householders should pay for excessive usage.

Fianna Fáil says it supports provisions in the 2007 Water Services Act, which allows for homeowners who waste water to receive fines of up to €5,000 or three months in prison.

The same legislation allows for water supply to be turned off and householders to be taken to court.

Mr Cowen said he supported the thrust of the legislation but did not foresee a situation where water would be reduced for excessive users.

The Fianna Fáil TD also declined to rule out an election over the issue claiming a refusal to implement the decision of the Oireachtas committee was a breach of the confidence and supply arrangement reached with Fine Gael.

“If the Minister refuses to legislate, if he refuses to adhere to the confidence and supply arrangement and what is contained within it, it is him that is tearing it up and him that is bringing down the Government,” Mr Cowen said.