Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has claimed Minister for Housing Simon Coveney's leadership ambitions are affecting his ability to resolve the water charges debacle.
Mr Coveney wrote on Thursday to the Oireachtas committee on water charges, outlining his concerns over its final recommendations and whether the lack of a charge for excessive usage of water complies with the European Water Framework Directive and the polluter-pays principle.
Mr Martin suggested Mr Coveney's intervention has more to do with his Fine Gael leadership ambitions and those of his rival Leo Varadkar than with trying to find a resolution to the impasse.
“We are slightly concerned that the leadership situation in Fine Gael is affecting this - there is a rivalry within the party, there are clear protagonists for the leadership, and their respective support bases tend to be cranking it up on issues such as water to undermine the other person going for it,” Mr Martin said.
“But nonetheless when you stand back from it, the actual issues shouldn’t be ones that cause the level of disruption that are there at the moment,” Mr Martin told Cork’s 96FM when attending the official opening of Ringmahon Rangers AFC’s new facility in Mahon in Cork.
But constituency colleague Mr Coveney, who performed the official opening of the Ringmahon Rangers facility, rejected Mr Martin’s analysis and told Cork’s 96FM that Mr Martin’s comments were not helpful to finding a resolution to the deadlock.
“I think that’s not a helpful comment - it has nothing to do with it; a week ago, we had an understanding with Fianna Fail on how we could fix this in a way that was politically saleable but in a way that was also legally defensible.”
In writing to the committee, Mr Coveney had urged committee chairman Padraig Ó Céidigh to appoint an expert in EU law to examine the report's recommendations. He was supported by his party, with Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon requesting the report's proposals on metering and the charging regime be examined.
But Mr Coveney's intervention was criticised by members of the committee, who said it was inappropriate and unnecessary. Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen said he did not believe the Minister should be involved in the committee's work at the last minute.
Mr Cowen said Mr Coveney has been well represented on the committee by his colleagues and should not be getting involved.
The row prompted Fianna Fáil to refuse to negotiate with Fine Gael to break the deadlock on the report.
Mr Coveney said that contrary to media commentary during the week , he enjoyed a good relationship with Barry Cowen, and he insisted his motive in writing to Mr O Ceidigh was prompted by a concern that Ireland would not be facing fines for breaches of EU law on water wastage.
“We had an understanding [with Fianna Fail] - for whatever reason, that didn’t pan out this week; that’s unfortunate, but it’s got nothing to do with leadership - it’s got everything to do with me ensuring that what we agree is legally sound,” Mr Coveney said.