FF urges FG to outline water charges position by Friday

Water charges row could bring down Government - FF; FG warns over failure to levy for excessive use

Fianna Fáil has urged Fine Gael to outline its position on water charges by Friday.

The members of the Oireachtas water committee met again on Wednesday to discuss the future of water charges.

Earlier Fianna Fáil has said Fine Gael will bring down the Government if it refuses to accept the findings of an Oireachtas committee examining the future of water charges in the State.

The parties have been at loggerheads over the suspended levies, which the committee is soon expected to recommend should be permanently eliminated.


Fianna Fáil has insisted it will not support any form of charging regime including for excessive use of water by individual households, a notion supported by Fine Gael.

The agreement reached between the two parties before the formation of the Government commits Fine Gael to facilitating any legislation to implement the recommendations of the committee, including abolition of the charges.

However, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said no charging regime would be a breach of European law and against the advice of the Attorney General. He insisted he would not introduce any legislation that defies the advice of the Attorney General, the European Commission and legal opinion from his own department.


Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen said Mr Coveney had no right to interfere with the process undertaken by the Oireachtas committee.

He said the parties had reached an agreement after the election and that a breach of it could lead to another one.

“If he 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.

In response, Mr Coveney said he hoped the dispute would not result in a general election. He insisted he could not push legislation that went against independent legal advice because it was “politically convenient”.

The Minister said he would make officials from the Attorney General’s available to Fianna Fáil if necessary. He confirmed he spoke to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny before making any announcement on the deliberations of the committee. He said it was nothing he had not raised before but felt it necessary to intervene to ensure the committee was fully informed

The Taoiseach on Wednesday deflected questions as to whether he would introduce the legislation to abolish water charges.

Mr Kenny said the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil indicated that “the Government would facilitate the passage of legislation that may be necessary following the deliberations of the committee”.

“That’s what we’ll do,” he told the Dáil.

Responding to Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, he said the Government were currently considering the issues of water wastage and that Mr Coveney had “very strong” legal advice and even Sinn Féin, if it was in power, would “not be putting through legislation that you have legal advice is wrong to do”.

He said he had a strong aversion to a situation where wastage of water was happening the general taxpayer was expected to pay for it.

Excessive use

On the subject of penalties for excessive use, Mr Cowen said the 2007 Water Services Act allowed fines of up to €5,000 if householders are abusing water.

Asked if he agreed with a clause in the legislation which allowed for water supply to be discontinued, he said; “Do I think the tap should be turned off? No, I do not. But do I think the tap should be left on? No, I do not.”

Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath has said he would support the introduction of a charge or a fine for excessive use of water.

Mr McGrath told The Irish Times 'Inside Politics' podcast he believed water should be free for all to use.

However, he said he was in favour of a levy for householders who abuse water.

Mr McGrath, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, also strongly criticised Fianna Fáil for its position. He said Mr Cowen had been beaten by Mr Coveney in a dispute over rent controls and this was Mr Cowen's attempt to face down Fine Gael, he said.

Ms McDonald said that Mr Coveney had intervened “in a most inappropriate matter” and was trying to shoehorn the committee on water charges.

She said the Minister should stop interfering in the committee’s work and adhere to his own comments to “take the heat out” of the water charges issue and allow the committee to

She asked if Mr Coveney’s “tough guy stance” had more to do with the forthcoming leadership election in Fine Gael.

Mr Kenny told her his party was democratic and “we are not in a position to be able to anoint or appoint who we choose as leaders”.