FG-FF clash likely on legality of fines for wasting water

EU commissioner says it is ‘questionable’ if fines would meet water directive

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are likely to differ sharply on Tuesday when an Oireachtas committee considers the legality under EU law of imposing fines for wasting water.

This follows a comment by Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella that it would be “questionable’’ whether this met the EU water framework directive.

A source close to the committee, set up to examine the future of the charges, said the commissioner’s view would add to its difficulties in reaching a consensus. “Reaching some kind of coherent agreement is going to be very difficult,’’ the source added.

Fianna Fáil is opposed to charges, and believes amending the 2007 Water Services Act, which allows fines for wasting water, could be used to prevent wastage.


Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has insisted he will not introduce any legislation that defies the advice of the Attorney General, the European Commission and that of his own department.

The issue has caused considerable tension between the minority Government and Fianna Fáil, which has said it is an issue which could bring down the Government.

Impose fines

The 20-member committee, under the chairmanship of Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, was scheduled to report to the Dáil on February 28th. However, it failed to reach agreement, and its report is now due by April 14th.

The commissioner's view was expressed in a letter to Fine Gael Dublin MEP Brian Hayes. Mr Hayes said he had asked the commissioner whether Fianna Fáil's proposal to the committee to impose fines for "wilful abuse of water'' was in compliance with the directive.

He said the commissioner had raised serious doubts, and had noted a previous Fianna Fáil government had given a clear commitment to introduce charges to comply with the directive.

“One thing we do get definitive confirmation on is that we cannot revert to our previous practice of paying for water through general taxation,’’ Mr Hayes added. “This would clearly constitute a breach of the water framework directive for which we would be liable for massive fines.’’

Dismissing the commissioner's view, Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, a member of the committee, said it fell into the category of "well, they would say that, wouldn't they?''

He said the "neo-liberal commission'' had been a driving force for water charges and privatisation across Europe.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times