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Senators start campaign to have a referendum on the Water Services Bill

Here’s what would have to happen to get it underway.

Image: Shutterstock/Gyvafoto

A PUSH IS on to have a referendum on the Water Services Bill.

Newly-appointed Senator Gerard Craughwell set forth his stall overnight, tweeting that a referendum is “the democratic thing to do right now” with regard to the Water Services Bill 2014.

He told TheJournal.ie that he made the decision as he was “disturbed by what I witnessed in the Seanad on Friday for 15-odd hours”. He said he felt the the Government was not going to accept any amendments on the Water Services Bill.

“The Government is unwilling to listen to the lower house. It seems totally unwilling to listen to the Seanad. This leaves us in the position that the bill will be rammed through in a similar way to how it was 12 months ago. The bill is not fit for purpose,” claimed Craughwell.

He sees this referendum as an alternative, by putting the bill to the people.

Craughwell said that there are “many decent members of the Oireachtas trapped” by the bill.

But he said he was concerned that some people may think that a referendum will stop water charges, when in fact it could only end the current legislation.

Not long after Craughwell’s morning tweets, Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane announced that his party will be seeking to petition the President not to sign the Water Services Bill into law if it is passed in both the Dáil and Seanad.

Craughwell described Sinn Féin as having “hijacked” his referendum idea, calling it unhelpful.

The President would be required to convene the Council of State to consider the bill under Article 27 of the Constitution if one third of the Dáil, and a majority of Senators, sign a petition of concern after the bill has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

That means 30 Senators and 56 TDs signing the petition.

However, as Gavan Reilly of Today FM, and formerly of this parish, pointed out:

Craughwell said that he does not see the bill being defeated in the Seanad, but said the idea of the referendum is to “get this into the public domain as an alternative to what is going on in Leinster House”.

He said if the petition is not legally binding, “there’s only one other way – that we just go and sit outside the Phoenix Park until such a time as the President says [a referendum will be held]“.

He is in the process of contacting every TD and Senator to ask if they will join him.

Senator Cullinane said “if both Houses of the Oireachtas pass the Water Services Bill this week we will then seek to petition the President under Article 27 of the Constitution.”

He claimed the party has the petition “ready to go” and is inviting all Oireachtas members who are genuinely opposed to domestic water charges to support this action.

Senator John Crowne pledged his support for the petition:

Bord Gais

Meanwhile, Bord Gáis questioned the need for Irish Water’s €540m metering programme as a pre-requisite to charging users for water.

That’s according to RTÉ show This Week, which saw documents relating to Bord Gáis’s concerns. A memo of a meeting on 11 May 2012 showed that officials in the Environment Department told Bord Gáis that it was the “Government’s wishes” that metering had to be in place before billing kicked in.

An alternative to metering would have been a flat or assessed charge per household.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley has called on Minister Alan Kelly to explain why Bord Gáis’s advice wasn’t followed.

Read: The Seanad debated the Water Services Bill well into the wee hours>

Read: Anti-water charge protests in Dublin and Donegal>

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