Dissent in Fine Gael over proposal to suspend Irish Water charges

Move could be perceived as seeking to hold on to ‘power at all costs’, says backbencher

  Pat Deering: “It’ll be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as power at all costs and the re-election of Enda at all costs.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Pat Deering: “It’ll be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as power at all costs and the re-election of Enda at all costs.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Suspending water charges could be seen as Fine Gael and Enda Kenny seeking to hold on to power “at all costs”, a party backbencher said last night.

As negotiations continue between the party and Fianna Fáil on forming a minority government, several Fine Gael TDs have said they would find it difficult to support a suspension of water charges lasting more than a few months.

And, on the position of Mr Kenny remaining on as party leader, many said a move against him was unlikely as it was believed he would stand aside shortly after leading Fine Gael back into government.

“It is all over for him,” one Minister said. “I think he’ll have to step down by the summer.”

Some TDs and Ministers expressed surprise at the party’s offer of a temporary suspension of water charges in exchange for Fianna Fáil facilitating a Fine Gael-led minority government.

There was also a strong feeling that those who had paid their bills must be refunded, perhaps through cheaper future bills or a tax credit, though this is seen as unlikely.

Alternatively, those who had not paid must be pursued with extra vigour, which is seen as the more plausible option.

Fine Gael has said the suspension would last for the duration of a commission to examine water charges, while Fianna Fáil wants it for five years.

On suspending charges, Carlow-Kilkenny’s Pat Deering said: “It’ll be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as power at all costs and the re-election of Enda at all costs. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. It is this or an election, and we cannot go to the country with Enda as our leader.”

Lengthy suspension

Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle said that if Mr Kenny had to “force” a lengthy suspension through the parliamentary party, “he might not get his way”.

He said Fianna Fáil could attempt to form a coalition with Sinn Féin, since both wanted to get rid of water charges.

Dublin North-West’s Noel Rock said: “The fundamental aspect of it is: what happens to the people who have already paid?”

Wexford’s Michael D’Arcy also said the move could look like Fine Gael seeking “power at any costs and at too high a price”.

Mr D’Arcy said that Irish Water must remain, and that charges must only be suspended for six months.

Clare’s Pat Breen said both parties needed to compromise or else “feel the wrath of the electorate”.

Cork South-West’s Jim Daly, however, said he did not have a “huge issue” with compromising. “Fine Gael members are saying to me don’t be stupid, don’t jeopardise government formation over water.”

Carlow-Kilkenny’s John Paul Phelan asked if Fianna Fáil had “learned nothing from the base populism that drove the country off a cliff”.

Mayo’s Michael Ring said it would be hard to reintroduce charges once they were suspended and was opposed to it.

Party members

Kildare South’s Martin Heydon said his phone was “red” yesterday due to the number of calls from party members angry about the latest developments.

Cork North-West’s Michael Creed said: “I’m getting traffic on my phone saying ‘don’t do a deal, don’t do a deal’, and others saying the country needs a government.”

Meath East’s Helen McEntee said: “Anything that is a suspension for more than a few months is a no-go for me.”