Irish Water: Fianna Fáil backs abolition of utility

Micheál Martin proposes new agency that would retain strategic control of services

At the last political party think-in of the season Micheál Martin was on the offensive against the government, Sinn Féin and Joan Burton. Harry McGee reports.

 

Fianna Fáil has said it supports a position where Irish Water is abolished with day-to-day delivery of services being returned to local authorities.

Party leader Micheál Martin proposed on Tuesday that a new body be established that would have overarching strategic control of water services.

He said this body would be similar in structure to the National Roads Authority (NRA). Mr Martin said that with little over 100 staff, the NRA had overseen the construction of Ireland’s network of motorways in conjunction with local authorities.

He said such a streamlined control system should be considered for a new water utility, with day-to-day delivery of water provision and sewage services being returned to councils.

He was speaking at the conclusion of a Fianna Fáil two-day parliamentary party meeting at the Marine Hotel in Sutton, Co Dublin.

He said the current model did not work: “It’s the first tax in the history of the State that has resulted in the Government losing money.”

Party finance spokesman Michael McGrath said that Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin had said it would cost €1 billion to abolish Irish Water but that that the Government had given no access to information that might back up that figure. He said the entire project was “in tatters” especially after the Eurostat ruling that it had not passed the market test.

During the morning, the party’s TDs and Senators heard presentations from Irish Farmers’ Association president Eddie Downey as well as from independent broadcasters of Ireland who outlined the great challenges faced in their sector. The party then held a session discussing electoral strategy.

The party’s candidates in the Dublin Bay North constituency, where the meeting was held, are Deirdre Heney and Seán Haughey. There have been tensions over the addition of Mr Haughey to the ticket. For the second day running neither candidate was present.

Homeless crisis

In a media conference, Mr Martin also criticised the Government for what he described as a crisis in social housing and homelessness.

“There is a chronic emergency in housing. The Government stands indicted. It is a scandal.”

Asked for views on prefabricated houses, he said that six months ago he might have said the response must be better than that but now it was a choice between them and very unsuitable hotel and B&B accommodation.

Asked for a response to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams’s comments that his call for a suspension of the Northern Assembly was “stupid”, he said: “Gerry Adams should be careful about labelling people stupid.”

He asserted that the rate of child poverty in Mr Adams’s former constituency of West Belfast was 46 per cent.

“Before you call people stupid, account for your own 30 years of stewardship in West Belfast,” he said, in comments directed at the Sinn Féin leader.

The Fianna Fáil leader was also critical of an interview Tánaiste Joan Burton gave to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

He said the “tone and tenor and her demeanour brought home the sheer arrogance of the Government”.

He claimed Ms Burton had “almost insulted” the presenter (Gavin Jennings) because he had brought up the issue of Labour’s “Tesco advert” which had appeared days before the 2011 general election.

He said Ms Burton should show more humility and added that the electorate needed to “beware of the promises of the Labour Party”.

Fianna Fáil suffered its worst ever election result in 2011 when its representation fell by almost 70 per cent to 20 seats. At present it has no TDs in Dublin and only one woman among its 33 Oireachtas members. The party is expected to gain seats in the general election but its senior figures accept that its recovery in Dublin will be modest with the party winning back seats in only a handful of constituencies.