Most people will not pay water charges as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil bury hatchet

Solidarity TD warns deal will allow charges by ‘back door’

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen  (left) has insisted water charges would not be imposed on the majority of the population. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen (left) has insisted water charges would not be imposed on the majority of the population. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

The majority of people will not pay water charges under an agreement reached between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, parking the contentious issue that has dogged politics for six years.

An Oireachtas committee given the task of examining the issue produced a set of recommendations on the issue on Tuesday after a week that saw a bitter row nearly collapse the minority, Fine Gael-led Government that relies on the support of Fianna Fáil.

The deal between the two parties, emerging form the Oireachtas committee examining the future of water services, includes a commitment to install water meters in new builds, a charge for excessive use and a “per household” allowance for average usage, which reflects Fine Gael’s key demands. Excess usage will be 70 per cent above the average household use and the average will be set at 133 litres per person per day. The committee agreed that the Water Services Act 2007 would be amended to impose levies on householders who waste water, rather than fines.

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen denied this was a U-turn by his party, insisting water charges would not be imposed on the majority of the population.

Listen to Inside Politics

Oireachtas committee report

Asked if this was a climbdown to Minister for Housing Simon Coveney, Mr Cowen said: “I do not care if it is 2-0, 3-0 or 10-0 or 1-1. When the spin fades away, the fact will remain that there are no charges and Fianna Fáil fulfilled its commitment in this regard.”

It is estimated that only 8 per cent of households will face any charge; however committee member Solidarity’s Paul Murphy warned this morning that the agreement was a “back door” for water charges in the future and his party would continue to resist charges.

“Those who are paying are those who have large families”, he told RTÉ radio this morning, pointing out that people with larger households were likely to exceed the household “excess use” limits.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin and Mr Murphy said the household limits element of the water deal represented a U-turn by Fianna Fail and claimed that this proved the party could not be trusted.

The last-minute changes came after senior counsel to the committee proposed a number of alterations. The legal opinion said a metering programme and a charge for excessive usage were required under European law.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Independent TD Noel Grealish and chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh supported the report’s recommendations. All other members, including those from the Labour Party and the Green Party, voted against the final proposals, insisting the measures did not go far enough. The deal broadly reflects an agreement reached by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael 10 days ago.