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Alan Kelly: Phil Hogan 'could have done better' when setting up Irish Water

The Environment Minister also said that he doesn’t want to see people end up in jail for not paying water charges.

Updated: 1.25pm

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER ALAN Kelly has said that his predecessor in the Department of the Environment, Phil Hogan, “could have done better” when setting up Irish Water.

“I wasn’t in Cabinet at the time and wasn’t party to those decisions at the time,” he told Newstalk.

In a separate interview with the station, Tánaiste Joan Burton refused to be drawn on whether or not Hogan was to blame for the mistakes that had been made in setting up the utility.

“I’m not really going to discuss Commissioner Hogan now he’s in Europe, he has an important job to do,” she remarked.

When speaking to Morning Ireland earlier, Kelly said that he doesn’t want to see members of the public end up in jail for non-payment of water charges.

The minister acknowledged that Irish Water could bring people who don’t pay their bills to court, “like any utility”.

He said this was a decision for the company itself but cautioned that it was “not the right road” to take, adding: “I don’t see people ending up in jail.”

Kelly confirmed that legislation would be in place to allow landlords to deduct outstaning water charges from a tenant’s deposit.

He also said that measures would be put in place for those who can’t pay, such as paying €5 a month or “over a couple of months” at the Post Office.

When asked if the Government would be making any further concessions if the protest movement increased, Kelly responded with a firm: “No.”

The Environment Minister said that the reduction in cost announced yesterday weren’t necessarily in reaction to the level of anti-water charges demonstrations, stating: “The issue would have been revised regardless of protests.”

Kelly said that it would be “virtually impossible” to base water charges on income, given the “level of bureaucracy” involved.

Extension to capped charges

Under the package announced yesterday, an adult living on their own will pay €60 per year for water when a €100 rebate is included – around €1.15 a week.

People who don’t register will receive an automatic €260 bill and will not qualify for the €100 rebate. Over four years of non-payment, penalties would accumulate to €1,640.

The capped charges will remain in place until  1 January 2019 and Kelly said this period could be extended. While he admitted he can’t guarantee it, he said he would find it hard to see a future Environment Minister changing this legislation due to the amount of “problems” this could cause.

Kelly said that issue of public ownership of Irish Water was also being addressed by the Government.

‘Obsessed with elections’

The minister criticised some politicians for being ”obsessed with election cycles” and, as a result, not tackling difficult issues such as water supply and sewage.

“We have to grasp this nettle,” Kelly noted.

Speaking on the same programme, Socialist TD Paul Murphy said he thought people would still boycott the charges, despite the reduction in cost.

“People are no longer afraid of the Government, they’re increasingly aware that the Government is afraid of them,” he commented.

People will generally draw the conclusion that this Government is still in panic … If we have a massive boycott, this Government or the next Government will be forced to abolish the charges entirely.

An anti-water charges protest outside the Dáil is being planned for 10 December.

Additional reporting by Michelle Hennessy 

Originally published: 9.58am

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Órla Ryan

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