Fine Gael agrees to examine legislation on water wastage

Simon Coveney says 2007 Water Services Act must comply with European directive

Water charges: The levy has proved to be among the most divisive of political issues. Photograph: The Irish Times

Water charges: The levy has proved to be among the most divisive of political issues. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

A deal on the future of water charges may be close as Fine Gael has agreed to examine existing legislation to penalise householders who waste water.

The 20-member Oireachtas committee on water charges will meet today as members remain at odds over the introduction of a charge for excessive use of water.

A draft report will be circulated to all members by chairperson Pádraig O’Ceidigh, which will propose that the committee assess the 2007 Water Services Act to allow for fines for homes who waste water.

The draft document will propose amending the legislation to ensure it meets the requirements of European law.

Fianna Fáil has pushed this proposal insisting there is no evidence of wastage of water but stresses householders who do waste it should receive fines of up to €5,000 or three months imprisonment.

Fine Gael had insisted the Act will not meet the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.

Coveney view

However, speaking to The Irish Times last night, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney confirmed the 2007 Act must be assessed.

“We either need new legislation or to fundamentally change the existing 2007 legislation in order to deal comprehensively and practically with water wastage and that has to comply with the European directive.”

The Minister said he believed the threat of jail time and reducing supply should be automatically removed from the existing Act.

In return, Fianna Fáil has agreed to amend the legislation to define an excessive usage limit but wants fines of €5,000 to apply to households over that limit.

The dispute between the two parties had threatened to destabilise the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and bring down the Government.

The draft report of the Oireachtas committee will include a commitment to examine this 2007 legislation but will not make a firm recommendation until it receives advice from the independent legal team in the Houses of the Oireachtas on its legality.

The committee will consider the draft report today and will hold three further private meetings this week.

Their final recommendations were due to be sent to the Dáil next week for a vote but it is likely to be delayed.

Cost implications

Meanwhile, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has said he will outline the cost implications of the water committee’s recommendations. Mr Donohoe said there would be financial consequences for the taxpayer if charges are to be abolished.

The Minister also criticised Fianna Fáil’s stance, claiming taking householders to court for wasting water was nonsensical.

He said: “For any government to find itself in a situation where it has to deal with fining people for excess water usage, or taking them to court for excess water usage, but is not in a position to be able to charge them a moderate amount for that usage would present even greater difficulty for water policy than what we have at the moment.”

It is also understood Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan is coming under some pressure to abstain if the committee is forced to take a vote. While the Green Party is in favour of charging for water, Ms O’Sullivan is on the committee representing the Civil Engagement Group, an alliance of Independent Senators.

There are varying positions within that group as to whether levies should be retained and some are calling for Ms O’Sullivan to reflect that in her vote.