Last-minute deal on water charges agreed as FG demands met

Fianna Fáil performed U-turn and cannot be trusted, says Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin

Barry Cowen: “When the spin fades away, the fact will remain that there are no charges and Fianna Fáil fulfilled its commitment.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Barry Cowen: “When the spin fades away, the fact will remain that there are no charges and Fianna Fáil fulfilled its commitment.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have agreed to a last-minute deal on the future of water charges after Fianna Fáil made several substantial concessions.

The deal includes a commitment to install water meters in new builds, a charge for excessive use and a “per household” allowance for average usage, which reflects Fine Gael’s key demands.

The agreement was reached after a dramatic day at the Oireachtas committee examining the future of water services.

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen denied this was a U-turn by his party, insisting water charges would not be imposed on the majority of the population.

Asked if this was a climbdown to Minister for Housing Simon Coveney, Mr Cowen said: “I do not care if it is 2-0, 3-0 or 10-0 or 1-1. When the spin fades away, the fact will remain that there are no charges and Fianna Fáil fulfilled its commitment in this regard.”

However, Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin and Solidarity’s Paul Murphy said this was a U-turn by the party and claimed that this proved Fianna Fáil could not be trusted.

The TDs said the decision to introduce an allowance per household could enable water charges to be introduced by the back door.

Legal opinion

The last-minute changes came after senior counsel to the committee proposed a number of alterations. The legal opinion said a metering programme and a charge for excessive usage were required under European law.

Speaking at the meeting the Right2Water TDs on the committee questioned the advice given by the senior counsel, claiming it contradicted the opinions given last week.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Independent TD Noel Grealish and chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh supported the report’s recommendations. All other members, including those from the Labour Party and the Green Party, voted against the final proposals, insisting the measures did not go far enough.

The deal broadly reflects an agreement reached by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael 10 days ago.

Excess usage will be 70 per cent above the average household use and the average will be set at 133 litres per person per day.

The committee agreed that the Water Services Act 2007 would be amended to impose levies on householders who waste water, rather than fines.

Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon said the party had remained true to its principles.

“We stood our ground and did what we believed was right. We approached this in an open and transparent and honest manner and I think we are vindicated by the results,” Mr Heydon said.