Anti-water-charge campaigners have celebrated after Fine Gael’s Minister for Housing and leadership contender Simon Coveney finally stated that “water charges are gone”, although there are still concerns the party may try to reintroduce them in the future.
In a formal submission made to the Committee on the Future Funding of Water, Fine Gael has continued to argue that charges must be retained for people who “waste water” or have “excessive usage”.
The committee was set up a part of last year’s deal between the two right-wing parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to allow a minority government led by stay in office.
After years of campaigns and demonstrations of over a hundred thousand people on the streets of Dublin, the setting up of the committee ensured the hot-potato issue was “kicked down the road”.
But it has now finally emerged that almost one million households can expect water charge refunds of up to 325 euro as part of a compromise between the two parties, and unpaid bills will not be pursued.
The two parties still disagree over the total abolition of charges. In line with Mr Coveney’s public statements over recent days, the party’s negotiating team has said it wants the 900,000 water meters already in the ground to be maintained, all newly built homes to have a meter installed and ‘opt-in opportunities’ for home owners who want to get a meter.
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny claimed that some form of charging is necessary to avoid fines from the EU. This drew a sharp rebuke from left-wing politicians, who pointed out the government’s readiness to ignore EU legislation on corporation tax, including their refusal to collect 13bn euro owed to the state by Apple, Inc.
The Taoiseach’s comments from yesterday are completely bogus,” said Sinn Fein’s spokesman on water is Eoin O’Broin.
“Scotland has no domestic water charges and they are fully compliant with EU law, Northern Ireland has no domestic water charges and they are fully compliant with EU law.
“So, so as long as we meet the environmental objective contained in EU legislation, which Sinn Fein believes we can, then the issue of charges is irrelevant.”
Fianna Fail’s water spokesman Barry Cowen said his party believes Fine Gael “wants to retain the billing system”. He said domestic meters should be considered redundant because “the regime is going and everything to do with it”.
Micheal Martin’s party has instead called for fines for excessive water use, but Mr Coveney has claimed only a billing system will satisfy Ireland’s requirements under the EU’s Water Framework Directive.
“Water charges are gone. They are going to be abolished. Normal usage for households across the country will be paid for through normal taxation”, he said.
“But there needs to be consequences for people who waste large quantities of water. There’s a legal obligation for that to happen but it’s also the right thing to do.”