Government Ministers at odds over water charge refunds

Coveney and Varadkar say focus should be on seeking levies from those who did not pay

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney is among the  Ministers who are opposed to paying back the money to those who complied with the law. Photograph:   Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney is among the Ministers who are opposed to paying back the money to those who complied with the law. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Government Ministers are at odds over whether water charges should be refunded to those who paid their bills.

A number of Fine Gael members of Cabinet are opposed to paying back the money to those who complied with the law.

The Independent Alliance, meanwhile, has insisted the monies should be found to make refunds.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said the focus should be on seeking the levies from those who did not pay.

However, many within Fine Gael, including Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, have said every step must be taken to take water charges off the agenda, including the possibility of refunds.

A large number of Fine Gael TDs – including Wexford TD Michael D’Arcy, Carlow-Kilkenny TDs Pat Deering and John Paul Phelan, Longford-Westmeath TD Peter Burke, Dublin North-West TD Noel Rock and Clare TD Joe Carey – supported the calls for refunds.

Tax credit

Mr D’Arcy said those who abided by the law should not be out of pocket, while Mr Phelan said refunds were required. Mr Burke said the party could offer a tax credit to those who paid their charges instead of sourcing cash.

One TD, who declined to be named, said the money spent chasing the non-compliant householders would cost the State more than the refunds.

“We need to kill this debate once and for all. If we start hounding people we make them martyrs. It is a pointless exercise.”

The expert commission, which examined this area, said those who paid their charges should be treated no less favourably than those who did not.

However, it did not offer any recommendations or proposals on how to achieve that fairness.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said Mr Coveney has “jumped the gun” by insisting those who have not paid should be pursued.

Mr Cowen, whose party proposed a tax credit for compliant householders, said this would be a matter for the Oireachtas committee to consider. “In our submission to the expert commission, we made a recommendation that a tax credit could be considered.

Strong argument for refunds

“It was only an option for them to examine. They did not so I think it is appropriate the committee do a cost-benefit analysis on each option and make a decision then.”

Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who is a member of the Independent Alliance, has said it was his belief there is a strong argument for refunds.

“I think that there’s a very good case for refunding them. If people are going to be let off, I think there’s a very good case for refunding those who have already paid them, yes I do.”

Asked whether he was personally in favour of refunding bill payers, he said: “Yes.”

When asked whether he believed households who have not paid water charges will do so, or be made to do so, he responded: “I think that’s probably something which is unlikely to happen.”