Water committee deeply divided on charges as FG loses votes

Fine Gael says draft report ‘is disingenuous and misleading to the Irish public’

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, Independent TD Séamus Healy and Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin are to table amendments to the water committee’s recommendations.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, Independent TD Séamus Healy and Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin are to table amendments to the water committee’s recommendations.

 

Fine Gael has lost three votes held by the Oireachtas committee on water charges on Tuesday. Members remain deeply divided over the introduction of a charge for excessive usage.

In a statement Fine Gael said it wants to agree a report that “resolves the problem of how we fund domestic water services in Ireland and is honest with the Irish people.”

“Fine Gael does not accept the language of the draft report that was discussed at the water committee today.”

“We believe it is disingenuous and misleading to the Irish public, and to members of the Oireachtas who ultimately will have to vote on this report.”

Contrary to the expectation that the report would be finalised today, ahead of its publication next week, Fine Gael had called for the first recommendation contained in the report to be removed or altered significantly.

The report had proposed the discontinuation of water charges.

However, Fine Gael also requested the wording of the report be changed to say the levy is being replaced with an “excessive usage charge”.

All other members resisted this measure and votes . It is understood members of the committee were liaising directly with Minister for Housing Simon Coveney on the report.

The meeting was due to be reconvened at 3pm but Fine Gael has declined to meet.

Other items on the agenda of the committee for today, but which it has not yet dealt with is a disagreement over a recommendation that all new build homes to have water meters installed.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, Independent TD Séamus Healy and Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin tabled amendments to the committee’s recommendations calling for this recommendation to be removed.

Mr Murphy is also opposed to the introduction of bulk metering at apartment complexes.

The report commits to determining normal usage of water as 70 per cent above a figure determined by the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Speaking to The Irish Times the Solidarity TD said he would not be in a position to sign off on the recommendations if these conclusions remained.

He said: “We cannot support anything that could see the re-introduction of water charges by the back door. Obviously we will seek to amend it but it is unlikely that we cannot support the report as it is currently worded.”

It is understood Mr Healy and Independent TD Thomas Pringle have similar concerns.

Sinn Féin is also seeking to table amendments to the report but Mr O’Broin said it was too early to say if the party would back the conclusions.

He said he would make the case for changes at the meeting today before deciding how to proceed.

The latest draft document was circulated to members yesterday with minor changes to wording as recommended by the committee’s senior counsel.

The language was altered to ensure Ireland’s compliance with the European Water Framework Directive.

The report commits to either penalties or levies be imposed on householders who waste water.

Wasteful water use, it says, should be monitored utilising district water meters, existing infrastructure and modern technology.

The CER will determine consumption levels and a threshold will be set at 70 per cent above this level.

The committee will not propose the fine amount or which body should collect the monies.

It is expected the chairman Pádraig O’Ceidigh will stress this is a matter for the Dáil when it considers the final report of the 20-member committee.

The latest document also recommends a review of legislation or the introduction of new legislation to ensure 10-year funding certainty for Irish Water.

It says funding must go directly to the water utility for the specific purpose of investing into the water infrastructure to ensure full compliance with Ireland’s EU obligations.

Normal domestic water use should be funded through taxation and this must be clearly identifiable to comply with Ireland’s obligations under EU law.

The committee recommends those who have paid some or all of the domestic water charges should have their money repaid.

This must take into account “the fiscal implications and the most effective refund methods, such households should be compensated in an equitable manner”.