TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has said people should continue to pay their water bills, despite indications that the charges will be up for discussion as politicians work to form a government.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night, Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney had said Fine Gael would be “willing to talk about water”.
However, this afternoon Coveney seemed to backtrack, saying that scrapping water charges would be a “big mistake”.
Fianna Fáil has made clear that it will push for charges to be scrapped, management of water supply to be returned to local authorities, and for Irish Water to be downsized into a national oversight body modelled on the National Roads Authority.
Kenny told reporters today that Coveney was correct in that his party would be willing to listen to anyone who might have ideas on forming a stable government.
However, he said he believed it would be “a seriously costly and seriously historic mistake to move away from having a single national utility”. He said:
It’s a fundamental issue for Fine Gael here that you have a single national utility for water and that you have a fair and affordable contribution.
When asked whether people should continue to pay their bills, he said: “Yes, they should pay their bills”.
Last night, Coveney said water is clearly “a big issue for people”.
“We’re talking about trying to reflect what people want in Ireland. Some people agree with water charges, other people don’t,” he said.
“We need to take on board, within reason, what (other parties) are looking for.”
But speaking to RTÉ’s News at One this afternoon, Coveney said “to reverse and to abolish that system now would be a big mistake”.
We believe that a single utility and a fair charging system is the right approach to water in Ireland, that is the way the vast majority of countries in the world do it.
He said that people should continue to pay their water bills and that he will continue to do so.
That view was echoed by Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary who, on the same programme, said he would continue to pay water bills. But Calleary added that the vast majority of TDs in the 32nd Dáil now have a mandate to abolish water charges.
Reiterating his party’s stated position during the campaign, the Fianna Fáil TD said “we were very clear during the campaign that we would abolish Irish Water, that we would suspend water charges for five years, we were clear during the campaign also that we would not give refunds”.
‘Radical overhaul needed’
This afternoon, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan TD said that a radical overhaul of Irish water is needed, but it should be retained in a reduced form.
“Conservation, investment, and fairness should be at the heart of our water services,” he said. “Public confidence in Irish Water is very badly damaged, and the outgoing government needs to take responsibility for that.”
He added that “it is clear that the Government’s plan to fund water investment through charges for use will not work”.
We’re proposing the retention and overhaul of Irish Water – reducing the utilities role to overseeing and directing investment, like the National Roads Authority. The new Irish Water would be tasked with managing water infrastructure on a regional basis, based around river catchment areas, in conjunction with local authorities.
“Nobody should have to pay for every day, normal use, but we do need an incentive to conserve water,” added Ryan.
A nominal charge should apply to consistent waste of water, above that generous allowance. Once that conservation mechanism is there – funding for investment can be provided via joint EU/Central exchequer funding, through the EIB and Juncker’s Investment Plan.
- with reporting by Hugh O’Connell and Michelle Hennessy