President Higgins ignores pleas and signs Water Services Bill into law

Higgins rejects Opposition pleas for Supreme Court referral and referendum

President Michael D Higgins has signed the water charges into law and ignored pleas from a range of Opposition TDs and Senators to refer the legislation to the Supreme Court.

Mr Higgins has also rejected an earlier call from Sinn Féin to put the issue to the people in a referendum saying that such a course of action was not permitted by the Constitution.

A statement from Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday said: “President Michael D Higgins, having given careful consideration to all aspects of the Bill and the submissions he received, today signed the Water Services Bill 2014.”

It went on to say that among the submissions the President received, a number requested him to refer the Bill to the people for decision under Article 27 of Bunreacht na hÉireann.


One of those requests to the President to put the issue to the people in a referendum under Article 27 of the Constitution came from Sinn Féin.

However, the statement from the Áras pointed out that Article 27 of Bunreacht na hÉireann applies only where Bills have been deemed by virtue of Article 23 to have been passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Article 23 deals with a situation in which the Dáil decides to ignore amendments to a Bill approved by the Seanad and pass it in any case. In that situation, a majority of the Seanad and a third of the Dáil can petition the President to put the issue to a referendum.

Concerted campaign

The Water Services Bill was not amended by the Seanad despite a concerted campaign by the Opposition and as the statement from the Áras pointed out: “Article 27 of Bunreacht na hÉireann therefore did not apply in this case.”

As well as receiving submissions to put the Bill to a referendum, the President was also asked by Sinn Féin, the Technical Group and the Reform Alliance to refer the legislation to the Supreme Court under Article 26 of the Constitution.

The statement from the Áras said that the President had given consideration to the submissions received asking him to invoke Article 26 but he had decided, having given it consideration, to sign the Bill.

Requests to the President to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court were received from two groups of politicians in the past week.


One letter, with 38 signatures, was initiated by Sinn Féin while the other, with 12 signatures, was organised by Reform Alliance Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames.

The Sinn Féin letter asked the President to invoke Article 26, which allows the President – after consulting the Council of State – to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

The letter began: “A Uachtaráin, a chara, Under Article 26 of Bunreacht na hÉireann we request that you consider declining to sign and promulgate as a law the Water Services Bill 2014 on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.”

The Sinn Féin letter was signed by all of the party’s TDs and most of the technical group including Shane Ross, Stephen Donnelly and Michael Fitzmaurice.

Senator Healy-Eames’s letter asking for the referral of the Bill was signed by 12 Senators including two from Fianna Fáil who defied their own party on the issue.

While Fianna Fáil opposed the Bill in the Dáil and Seanad, the party did not request the President to refer it to the Supreme Court.

People will now be required to pay €260 a year for water in cases of households with more than one person and €160 where there is just one person in a house. All complying householders will be entitled to a €100 a year rebate from the Department of Social Welfare even in cases where the water charges do not apply.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times