Senior Coalition figures seek rethink on Irish Water
Referendum urged to copperfasten future status as a public utility
Anti-water charge marchers on the streets of O’Connell St, Dublin when thousands flocked to the city to demonstrate against the new charge. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
Anti-water charge protests on O’Connell Street on Saturday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Senior figures in the Coalition yesterday called for a major recasting of Irish Water by setting up a Government committee to re-examine the entire project and by holding a referendum to copperfasten its status as a public utility.
In the wake of Saturday’s protest marches that saw well over 100,000 people take to the streets to voice their opposition to water charges, senior figures in the Government parties yesterday said the public antipathy towards the utility demanded concrete changes and a fundamental review.
Minister of State for Rural Affairs Ann Phelan told The Irish Times bills should not be issued until there is certainty about the price. She said not everyone should have to give their PPS numbers to receive their free water allowance.
And in another embarrassing development, Mayor of Drogheda Kevin Callan resigned from Fine Gael last night over at its handling of water charges. Mr Callan said what is proposed is “a bridge too far”: “I think people who are involved in putting this together now need to consider their position.”
Mr Wall’s sentiments were echoed by former minister Joe Costello who said Irish Water was “totally inadequate”.
Speaking on RTÉ, Mr Costello was very critical of the utility and described it as having the form of “an extravagant quango that’s looking for performance-related bonuses before it is set up”.
Mr Costello, Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd and Siptu president Jack O’Connor were among figures who yesterday called for a referendum guaranteeing that Irish Water remains in public ownership.
Mr O’Connor said there was little political support for privatisation yet it would come about “by stealth and very quickly too if the citizens of Ireland do not vote for such a constitutional change”.
Over the weekend, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton both acknowledged people had genuine concerns. Speaking at the Fine Gael presidential dinner on Saturday night, Mr Kenny promised the Government would provide clarity and certainty in the coming weeks “so that people will know in advance of receiving their bills [in January] what they will be required to pay”.
It is understood two main planks of the Coalition’s strategy will be to extend flat payments until well into 2016, and ensure its system for “water support mechanisms” (payment concessions through tax credits and welfare) is wholly efficient.
Strongly defending the policy, Mr Kenny contended that to reverse water charges would result in a cost equivalent to the top rate of tax being increased by 4 per cent.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed the Taoiseach’s figures to back his 4 per cent tax hike contention were “utterly bogus”. Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald disclosed she will not pay water charges.