Government may not carry Seanad vote on water charges

Varadkar warns of higher bills in January if concessions and lower charges not agreed

The Government is uncertain of the voting intentions of some Senators nominated by the Taoiseach as it prepares for crucial votes on water charges legislation.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has warned Senators that if they reject the revised legislation this week, people will face higher bills in January rather than reduced bills in April. His comments were described as "unhelpful" by Independent Senator Fiach MacConghail.

The controversial Water Services Bill 2014 is due to be debated in the Dáil on Tuesday and Wednesday before proceeding to the Seanad on Thursday and Friday.

Mr Varadkar, who was speaking at an event in Dublin, said the concessions and reduced charges announced by Government recently needed to be agreed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Status quo

“As I understand it, if the Seanad does reject the Water Services Bill, the existing arrangements apply. So what they would in effect be doing is allowing the status quo to stand, which would mean higher bills landing in January rather than the reduced bills in April,” he said. “So I think the Seanad need to think about whether they want to be responsible for that or not.”

Mr MacConghail said Senators were waiting to see the shape of the Bill when it emerged from the Dáil after amendments had been debated, and were continuing to seek clarity on various issues, such as privatisation and data protection.

“Leo’s comments were unhelpful. The Seanad has a very independent mind,” he said. “I’ll consider the Bill when it comes through. I just want clarification on privatisation; I need more clarity around data people have already submitted.”

The Government is in a minority in the 60-seat Seanad with 17 Fine Gael and 11 Labour Senators. The other seats belong to Opposition and Independent members who sometimes support the Government.

Another Taoiseach’s nominee, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, said she had “very mixed” feelings about the Bill.

Grave doubts

“I’m not against paying for water but my big worry was privatisation. I’m not too sure my fears have been allayed,” said Ms O’Donnell.“I also have grave doubts about the structure of Irish Water.”

She predicted the debate on the contentious legislation would not conclude this week but would continue into next week.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly predicted the legislation would be supported by the Seanad this week.