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Fine Gael says water committee report is illegal and it won't support it

The water committee will reconvene tomorrow.

Updated 9pm

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FINE GAEL HAS said it won’t be voting in favour of the water committee’s report on water charges tomorrow because it is illegal.

After almost seven hours of deliberating and voting on amendments to the report, Fine Gael has said what was voted through today falls well short of Ireland’s obligations under the EU Water Framework Directive and puts the country on a collision course with the European Commission.

“Ultimately, we cannot stand over a politically expedient report that is misleading to the public and ignores the serious consequences for Ireland,” the party said in a statement.

Fine Gael believes if the report’s recommendations are implemented it will leave Irish people open to tens of millions of fines under EU laws and is contrary to the previous advice of the Attorney General to government in relation to this.

However, Fianna Fáil maintains that independent legal advice found that today’s changes are legal and can proceed.

What happened today?

In summary, Fine Gael lost numerous votes on amendments being made to the report today and said it could not support the significant changes made to the document.

The 20-member committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services has so far met 20 times in a bid to hammer out an agreement on the issues relating to water charges, refunds and metering.

Last week, it appeared that it was inching towards the end, but the whole thing fell into disarray yesterday with Fine Gael’s Martin Heydon stating there was an attempt to dress up the report and to lead people to believe that there will be no charge in any way shape or form.

“We believed we were close to an agreement but, regrettably, today this has not proved to be the case,” Fine Gael’s Colm Brophy said this evening.

Choosing sides

During votes today Fianna Fáil sided with Right2Water TDs such as Solidarity-PBP and Sinn Féin on a number of issues, while on most issues the Green Party and Labour Party members sided with Fine Gael.

Fine Gael failed to win a vote to introduce a charge for excessive use of average water usage defined as 133 litres a day.

The terms ‘wasteful/abusive’ replaced ‘excessive’ in the water report with ‘penalties’ being included for abusive or wasteful use of water.

The final straw for Fine Gael came when the installation of water meters in new build homes was scrapped from the report.

In a statement this evening, Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell said Fianna Fáil’s actions today were “fundamentally dishonest and shows a blatant disregard for the Irish people”.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said a process to deal with water was put in place when the government was formed and that his party is merely adhering to that process.

He said the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil states that once a final report is adjudicated by the committee the government of the day would adhere to the recommendations made in it and facilitate the passage of legislation.

However, the spat over water spilled on to social media, with Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen and Housing Minister Simon Coveney taking digs at one another on Twitter.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said Fine Gael were questioning his party’s integrity, calling today’s events “disappointing”.

“They weren’t able to accept that water charge are gone,” said Cowen, who said today there was an attempt to cling on for the back door reintroduction of charges.

The behaviour and commentary of Fine Gael representatives on the committee over the course of the last 24 hours has been deeply frustrating and disappointing. After months of hard work by representatives of all political backgrounds, a fair deal on the funding of water and the treatment of those who abuse the water resource was agreed last week by the committee.
That agreement has now been abandoned by Fine Gael representatives without any credible explanation.

Solidarity-PBP TDs walked to the plinth this evening with smiles on their faces, declaring victory for the anti-water charges movement.

Sinn Féin said the ball is no firmly in Minister Simon Coveney’s court.

What Now?

The committee is to reconvene tomorrow – for the 21st time – the report will be finalised, and a vote will be taken.

Fine Gael will not vote to support the report, but the majority of committee members will.

The report will go before the Dáil, as early as next week, and the recommendations of the report will be voted on.

Under the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil (the document propping up this minority government) the government is under an obligation to bring forward legislation to give effect to the report’s recommendations.

If they don’t?

It would be a breach of that agreement.

Coveney has said he won’t bring legislation before the Dáil that he believes is illegal and which  he claims will result in fines by the EU.

If there’s a breach in the supply and confidence agreement then it could be curtains for this government.

There was a right old barney in the water committee today – so what’s going on?>

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