Seven TDs turn up for late-night water charges debate in Dáil

Politics of ‘thuggery’ did not defeat water charges, FF's Barry Cowen claims

The politics of "thuggery" did not defeat water charges, Fianna Fáil's local government spokesman Barry Cowen has claimed.

During a late night debate on introducing legislation to refund people who have paid the charges and to fine households in future for excessive use of water, Mr Cowen said “street thuggery has not won and democracy has”.

Just seven TDs were in attendance for debate on the controversial issue which has convulsed politics in the State for four years.

Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy, who introduced the Water Services Bill, was the only Government TD in attendance when he spoke.


Mr Murphy said the Bill “doesn’t bring us to a point I am personally happy with or proud of, but my responsibility in this matter it to implement this legislation to protect Irish Water as a single public water utility and to continue to work to improve and modernise water services throughout the country”.

The Minister said the Bill provides for “the extinguishing of liabilities under the current regime and the making for refunds to the 990,000 customers who paid”.

Mr Cowen claimed the Bill brings an end to the water charges regime.

“Only those who wilfully waste water will have to pay a fine,” he said, adding that there was a failure to acknowledge why the policy failed.

“Stubbornness should not be mistaken for bravery. Indifference should not be confused with principle and rigidity should not be viewed as firmness.”

‘Hard fought’

He said “it wasn’t the politics of thuggery that has defeated water charges. The Bill is the outcome of long debates and hard fought compromises.”

Water charges cost the State more than it made and hit working families regardless of their ability to pay.

“We had a tax that cost the State money.”

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said Mr Cowen forgot to tell the Dáil that Fianna Fáil introduced water charges which would have cost €400 a year.

The legislation was the latest in the very long and sorry saga of the water regime devised by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, he said.

Water charges could have been funded from general taxation and not in the failed way undertaken by the two parties, he added.

“But the problem was that the State simply did not want to invest the required level of revenue.”

Labour’s local government spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan said she believed the Bill would not satisfy the requirements of the EU as it failed to address how the 48 per cent of the population who did not have a meter could be measured accurately.

“I suspect people who have meters and will be charged might well have a case to make they are being unduly punished when those without meters, and cannot be as accurately assessed, may well escape any kind of penalties or charge,” she added.

Ms O’Sullivan said her party supported charges, with exemptions, but the Bill was a fudge and an attempt to get off a political hook.

Too many baths

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said claims that there was 47 per cent overuse of water was because "tens of thousands of people with swimming pools" were drinking too much water and were taking too many baths.

But “it was all nonsense”, and leakage, the vast majority of which was from the water mains, because of failure to invest in water infrastructure.

He said demonstrations were not characterised by “thuggery” but by ordinary people from grandparents to children protesting.

He claimed the Government wanted to leave the door open to have a water charges regime through the “excessive use” charge.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy described Mr Cowen's remarks about thuggery as "shameful" and said a mass movement had defeated water charges.

There were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, as well as community organisations, and there had been mass non-payment.

He said Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had been beaten before and could be beaten again on the issue.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

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