Fine Gael refuses to support Bill to abolish water charges

Simon Coveney says legislation proposed by Opposition parties is contrary to EU law

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney:  said he would not sign or introduce a Bill that brought forward measures he believed to be illegal.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney: said he would not sign or introduce a Bill that brought forward measures he believed to be illegal. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Fine Gael has ruled out facilitating any legislation from Opposition parties to completely abolish water charges.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said he could not play a role in passing a Bill which he believed was contrary to European law.

Members of the Oireachtas committee on water believed they could bring forward legislation to implement their recommendations regardless of Fine Gael’s own position.

However, Mr Coveney confirmed he would not sign or introduce a Bill that brought forward measures he believed to be illegal.

He told The Irish Times: “I have to get further clarity on whether opposition parties can bring forward legislation which would incur a cost on the State.

“Even if they can I cannot support or sign such a position when it goes against all of the independent legal advice I have received.”

Adjourned

Mr Coveney and his Fine Gael colleagues believe this is a breach of the European Water Framework Directive and could expose Ireland to significant fines.

Members of the Oireachtas committee insisted they would produce legislation to implement that recommendation without the support of the Government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny seemed to leave open this option yesterday, when he said it was possible for parties to allow the passage of certain measures without having a role in drafting them.

However, Mr Coveney reiterated he could not play any role in facilitating legislation which he believed was illegal.

Mr Coveney and Mr Kenny both stood by the Fine Gael position that excessive usage should not be paid for by general taxation.

‘Wilful wastage’

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs clashed at the private meeting of the Oireachtas committee on water yesterday, with Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey and Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell accusing Fianna Fáil of hijacking the work of the committee.

Chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh was forced to intervene and urge both sides to engage constructively.

Each side has been asked to put forward position papers by Friday at noon for further consideration next week.

It is understood the majority of members are agreed that domestic meters already installed should be retained and that all new builds would have meters installed.

It is proposed that a tax credit or welfare benefit should be offered to those who voluntarily take up a domestic meter.

Tax relief

It is further proposed that a referendum would be held ensuring Irish Water is retained in public ownership, and the Public Water forum would be made an advisor to the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Independent TD Noel Grealish said those on group water schemes, who have paid for water charges, must be treated equally.

The same issue was raised at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party where members urged party leader Micheál Martin to ensure they were not left behind.

TDs Bobby Aylward and Dara Calleary insisted those on group water schemes must not be disadvantaged.

Mr Martin said he believes there should be a full restoration of subsidies to those individuals.

The Oireachtas committee will receive a draft report on Monday with further discussions to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The report must be sent to the Dáil on March 13th for a vote the following week.