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Alan Kelly says future generations will "rue" the proposed Irish Water deal

The Dáil debated the issue of Irish Water today – and Kelly has been setting out his stall.

Updated 11.40pm

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

ALAN KELLY HAS said the scrapping of Irish Water will be “political, economic and environmental sabotage”.

Today, the Dáil heard statements on Irish Water and water charges, although no motion was allowed.

Last night, there seemed to be some movement in talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in relation to water charges.

In a late development, it looked like a possible deal had been agreed – although as of yet, it has not been signed off.

There still wasn’t a sign-off by late tonight.

Rueing the decision

Opening Dáil statements this afternoon, the Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly lashed out at Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the proposed deal of suspending charges.

This is 1977 all over again. Groundhog day. When unpopular local rates were abolished by Fianna Fail and people paid income tax rates of up to 60% in the eighties. We risk repeating that mistake again. Every other EU country has some type of domestic charge on water.

Speaking to RTÉ tonight, he spoke about the legality of the proposed deal.

He said that it is “economic, political and environmental sabotage”, because future generations “are going to rue this decision”. Kelly also said that it was his job to raise questions about the deal. He asked if the people who paid their water charges were to be made fools of.

“I certainly think there are legal issues here,” he said, pointing out that under the EU Water Framework Directive, the user has to pay. He said he is expecting legal advice on the issue soon.

“There is a time when we have to shout stop – and that’s what I did in the Dáil today,” he said.

Earlier, in the Dáil, he said abolishing water charges will result in water shortages in Dublin in future years and boil notices.

Staff in both Irish Water and their contractors must be reeling today – 500 of which are based on the Southside of Cork City –in the backyard of the Fianna Fail leader. I wonder what the 5,000 who work in the water and waste industry think of the latest development?

He said the Labour party stands in “solidarity with those workers today”.

Households that have paid

Kelly then turned to the issue of those that paid their water charges.

The people who paid of which there are approximately 950,000  and the 340,000 people who already paid for water are being given nothing but disregard by Fianna Fail.

He also asked if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are acting within the law, stating that the decision to suspend water charges runs contrary to EU law.

Kelly said failure to introduce water charges is likely to result in substantial EU fines in the years ahead.

“Do we have the now famous fiscal space for that?” he asked.

‘Nail some myths’

He also took the opportunity to “nail a few myths that have built up”.

Firstly, nobody pays for their water twice. Does our water system with boil water notices, leaking pipes and insecure supply look like something that we have paid for? Even in Northern Ireland, every home pays their local rates of which £200 goes to the water company along with general taxation.

He did admit that Irish Water was “rushed through” by the Dáil and slammed the idea of privatisation.

I cannot imagine any private entity ever wanting to own thousands of kilometres of Victorian pipes while having to adhere to strict regulations set down by the EPA and the HSE on water quality.

A referendum on the future of public water ownership would be supported by Labour, if it finally puts to bed the concerns of the people.

His allocated time was up before he had finished his speech, which resulted in him being rushed along in what will most likely be his last Dáil address as environment minister.

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Irish Water was “rammed down the throats of the Irish people”

Next up was Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen – one of the members of the government formation negotiating teams.

Cowen said Irish Water was “literally rammed down the throats of the Irish people”.

There have been about 13 u-turns, he said, which made Irish Water the “sorry saga” it is today. Cowen said the way it was set up made it “unpalatable” to the public.

Irish Water has cost the taxpayer double, and has been propped up from funds from motor tax and property tax, he said.

Irish Water could “strangle and kill this Dáil and cause an election,” he added.

He also pointed out that the majority of the Dáil are against water charges and said Fianna Fáil finds itself in a complicated situation.

His message to Fine Gael was it “can’t impose the will of the last Dáil on this one”.

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Had Irish Water been a state agency the uncontrolled expansion of management, the bonus culture, the waste, the secrecy, and the millions spent on polling, the massive and rising payments for lobbying and many other practices would not have been possible, said Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

And equally the disdain for democratic accountability would never have been allowed.

He said his party is in favour of a referendum on public ownership. “We are fully supportive of a stand against privatisation.”

I believe that the legitimate place for the future of water policy to be settled is here in the Dáil. Let’s first of all do what should have been done five years ago, and have an independent report on key elements of water policy. Let’s then debate it.
We welcome the fact that Fine Gael acknowledges the new reality and may agree a suspension of charges.  They would be free to argue and vote for the recommencement of charges after the suspension – and equally we and others would be free to argue and vote for the non-imposition of charges during this Dáil term.

Speaking on behalf of the Fine Gael party, Simon Coveney said since the establishment of Irish Water it has made many improvements to the water infrastructure.

Coveney said a “rushed vote” taken in a politically charged environment would be a “massive public policy mistake”.

He said the commission and Oireachtas Committee will give a period of nine months suspension of charges.

He said, ultimately, the Dáil will have to make a decision.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said issues relating to Irish Water and water charges should be dealt with in the Dáil, and not via a Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil “carve-up”.

“Sinn Féin’s view is that Irish Water should go and that water charges should be scrapped. That is our mandate. It is also Fianna Fáil’s mandate.”

If they were serious about fulfilling their election commitments, they would support a vote on a motion listed on the Order Paper that’s been put forward by 39 TDs calling for an end to domestic water charges.

- Additional reporting Aoife Barry

Read: Alan Shatter says Enda Kenny gave him ‘no choice’ but to resign>

Read: Minister says if water charges are scrapped, people who paid should get their money back>

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