Kenny will not implement any ‘illegal’ water charge proposals

FF TD accuses Simon Coveney of ‘standing up and trying to push Fianna Fáil around’

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the European Parliament  in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

 

The Government will not implement any proposals on water charges that are against the law, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Mr Kenny said the Oireachtas committee on the future of water charges has yet to complete its work and should be allowed to do so.

Mr Kenny was speaking as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue to publicly clash over the future of domestic water services, and, in particular, whether householders should pay for excessive usage.

Fine Gael is maintaining that some charge for excessive water use should remain in place, whereas Fianna Fáil is in favour of an outright abolition of water charges.

Micheál Martin’s party has instead called for fines for excessive water use, but the Government has said that position contravenes EU directives and could leave the State liable for significant penalties.

The Dáil will vote on the outcome of the Oireachtas committee’s deliberations, but it is widely expected that the House will vote in favour of outright abolition of water charges.

Mr Kenny also said that the advice or services of the attorney general would not be made available to Fianna Fáil to ensure whatever water charges proposals it drafts comply with EU law.

“You don’t make the advice of the attorney general available like that,” Mr Kenny said.

“I’ve said yesterday in the Dáil, we set up a committee to examine the recommendations of the expert commission [on water charges].

“That committee has not finished its work, it was given a paper by the chairman.

“I would expect them to deliberate on that and continue their work until such time as they bring forward their views and their recommendations to the Oireachtas. Clearly, you are not going to implement something that is illegal.”

When asked if the dispute over water charges has the potential to bring down the Government, Mr Kenny said: “We want the discussions to continue within the committee. When they are finished their work, they will report to the Oireachtas.”

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The Oireachtas committee on the future of water services failed to reach agreement on their final report after a 2½-hour meeting on Wednesday.

‘Standing up’

Earlier on Thursday, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said the controversy over water charges is about “Simon Coveney standing up and trying to push Fianna Fáil around”.

Mr McGuinness told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke the issue will not bring down the Government “because they’ll find some other way of kicking the can even further down the road.

“We have no new politics, we’ve a very poor Government and the structures that are in the committees and in the Dáil itself are simply not working. . . we need a Government that works and that can make decisions.

“It is ridiculous in Leinster House at present.”

Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey also said on the programme that the “old ways” of managing the State’s water services were not compliant with the EU’s water framework directive.

“It’s costing over €1 billion per annum with over 50 per cent of our water leaking into the ground, with pollution in our rivers, our seas,” he said.

Mr McGuinness said people were getting tired of the water charges issue.

“People are losing the centrepiece here. Fine Gael created a quango that has got €2.6 billion worth of taxpayers’ money up to 2016 that was funded from our taxes generally and that is taking half of our road tax,” he said.

Simple set up

He said Irish Water had not delivered and there could be a more simple set-up “that is more acceptable to people and that will give us the outcomes that we want”.

On the issue of wastage, Mr McGuinness said it was proven that district meters work.

“Isn’t it a little bit ridiculous that if something goes wrong with the water, you report it to Irish Water, Irish Water gets the staff of the county council to go out and repair it and all of the money is being sucked in for administrative reasons, and to get a water connection now, you’re looking at the cost of €12,000?” he asked.

However, Mr Coffey said the facts were that, in 2010, in the memorandum of understanding with the Troika, Fianna Fáil “signed this country up to charges of €500 per annum.

“Now they’re in opposition they’re taking a populist position and they’ve created an impasse,” he said.

He said the decision was about complying with the European framework directive.

“If we don’t [comply] we face serious legal sanctions and fines that our taxpayer will have to pay for.”

He said fines would amount to €20,000 per day.

“That’s retrospective to 2009 when Ireland as a State was first notified that we weren’t compliant with the framework directive. That’s €50 million plus and will rise if it’s not resolved.”

Mr McGuinness said: “The fact of the matter is if you invest in your water structure and your waste-water structure, Europe is satisfied with that.

“If we want back to the old way of doing things, where the councils went out and fixed the water and we invested in that and allowed the council to do their work, we wouldn’t have the waste water that we have.”