FG may risk election by rejecting water committee proposals

Cowen says he considers such a rejection a breach of confidence and supply deal

Simon Coveney has said  he will not introduce legislation which could be incompatible with the EU Water Framework Directive

Simon Coveney has said he will not introduce legislation which could be incompatible with the EU Water Framework Directive

 

Fine Gael may breach the confidence and supply arrangement and risk a general election by refusing to implement the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on water charges.

This is seen as a significant development, and a blow to the Minister for Housing Simon Coveney’s bid for the leadership of Fine Gael because his party’s demands for an excessive water-usage charge and metering for all new builds were removed from the report.

The party last night confirmed it would not support the final report of the committee.

Fine Gael insists the proposals may breach European law and expose the taxpayer to thousands of euro in fines.

Mr Coveney has stated he will not introduce legislation which could be incompatible with the EU Water Framework Directive.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on housing Barry Cowen confirmed he would consider this a breach of the confidence and supply arrangement.

The deal agreed between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael binds the Government to legislate for the committee’s recommendations. If Fine Gael refuses to facilitate such proposals it will represent the first breach of the confidence and supply agreement since its formation and may risk a general election.

Serious consequences

Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said the recommendations were illegal, politically expedient and ignorant of the serious consequences for Ireland.

“Fine Gael believes what has been voted on today, if implemented, will leave Irish people open to tens of millions of fines under EU laws, and is contrary to the previous advice of the Attorney General to Government in relation to this.”

Senior sources from both sides said the legislation arising from the recommendations would be key. Both agreed there was scope for agreement, but confirmed a general election could not be ruled out.

The final recommendations of the committee include refunds for householders who paid their charges, the funding of domestic water services through general taxation, and the installation of meters at apartment blocks.

Chaos

The meeting descended into chaos on Wednesday as Fine Gael sought fresh legal advice from a senior counsel on the report’s recommendations. The legal opinion confirmed the wording of the report was sufficient to meet EU requirements, and insisted it was the role of the legislation to perfect the language.

Fine Gael then insisted that legal advice was not “proper” and declined to accept it. A series of further votes were also held at the meeting and the party lost on each occasion.

The committee will hold its final meeting and final vote on the report on Thursday. Fine Gael and Labour will not support the measures.

Socialist TD Paul Murphy said this was a victory for the anti-water charges movement, but insisted the battle was not over. He said there was still potential for a deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael when the legislation is introduced in the Dáil.