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What's the Fianna Fáil alternative to Irish Water and water charges?

We asked the party’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen to outline his policy this week.

WITH THE REFERENDUM and various other political developments in recent weeks, Irish Water has fallen off the agenda somewhat but - as we reported this week - it hasn’t gone away completely.

In recent months, we’ve explored the Sinn Féin and Socialist alternatives to the government’s hugely controversial Irish Water and charging model.

But what about Fianna Fáil?

The party’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen has been arguably the most effective opposition TD when it comes to the water debacle.

cowen water

He has forensically poured over the issue and exposed some of the most controversial elements of the utility’s establishment and running costs. When he came into TheJournal.ie earlier this week, we asked him to outline his party’s alternative to Irish Water and water charges.

So, would Fianna Fáil abolish Irish Water if in government? 

Yes.

Is it a red line issue for the party if was to go into government? 

It is, according to Cowen.

We opposed it vehemently since its inception and the manner in which it was put together, the vehicle that has become Irish Water, the vast waste and cost associated with getting it to the stage it’s at. We felt there was a system in place that could adequately deliver a service if adequately funded anyhow.

How would it be scrapped? 

Unike Sinn Féin and the Socialists, the party is not planning to immediately scrap the entity. It would be gradually wound down and all existing contractual commitments undertaken by Irish Water would be maintained.

For example, the call centre staff at Abtran, who are contracted until 2018, would have those contracts honoured while all metering commitments would also be honoured. Cowen said it would take around two to three years to phase out Irish Water.

He also said there would be redundancies as part of the party’s plans:

Source: Video: Paul Hosford/TheJournal.ie

What happens then? 

Fianna Fáil proposes to give the responsibility for water provision back to local authorities. Cowen believes the perception was given that councils were doing a bad job of it and argued there was no scientific evidence to back that up. On the high level of leakages across the country, he said that’s more an issue of funding than management.

So, under Fianna Fáil, it’s back to exactly the way it was? 

Not exactly. Cowen said that you would abolish Irish Water but establish an over-arching national body to oversee the implementation of a plan to fix water infrastructure across the country.

He compares it to the National Roads Authority and says it would need a staff of around 100. This ‘National Water Authority’ would implement a national water infrastructure directive in way similar to what the NRA does with roads.

Cowen explained that it would be “prioritising development throughout the country rather than what you had before where local authorities prioritised within their own authorities”.

He said this would “cost far less” than the Irish Water model but wasn’t specific on exactly how much it would save.

Didn’t the government say that abolishing Irish Water would cost €900 million? 

Yes, but Cowen disputed this. He explained why in this clip:

Source: Video: Paul Hosford/TheJournal.ie

So, am I paying water charges under the Fianna Fáil plan?

No. Cowen says that once Irish Water is abolished, there will be no charges.

Will I get back what I have already paid? 

No. Cowen indicated this wouldn’t happen.

Will I have to pay water charges eventually? 

Yes. Cowen explained:

You bring about a system that is eventually fit for purpose and then you can expect people to make a contribution.

Source: Video: Paul Hosford/TheJournal.ie

When? 

“Seven, eight, ten years down the road,” said Cowen and only when there has been investment in upgrading water infrastructure.

Would I be paying more or less than now? Would it be a flat rate? 

Cowen said that charges would be less and they would be based on metering with allowances. He did not get into specifics.

This seems a bit, er, watery on the detail?

That’s not an unfair assessment. There’s a broad plan there in terms of returning responsibility for water to local authorities and getting rid of Irish Water (eventually) and replacing it with a slimmed-down NRA-type body. Charges form part of the plan, but only after the investment.

But the question for Fianna Fáil will be is it worth all that hassle if, by the time it gets back into government, Irish Water has bedded down and people are paying their bills?

A lot of that will be dependent on whether the active campaign to boycott the charges goes from strength to strength or the majority of people comply and pay their bills.

Read: What would happen if Sinn Féin scraps Irish Water and water charges?

Read: What is the Socialist alternative to Irish Water and water charges?

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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