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Enda Kenny tells new ministers to pay their water charges

Independent TDs Finian McGrath and John Halligan have both said they have not paid their Irish Water bill.

Image: Niall Carson

Updated 8.30pm

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY thinks that TDs, including cabinet ministers, should pay their water charges.

The new junior minister for disabilities, Finian McGrath, and Independent Alliance TD John Halligan have both said they will not pay water charges. 

Speaking to the media this evening, the Taoiseach had a short but succinct message for McGrath. When asked if he should pay his water charges, he simply said:

Yes.

A senior government official had already said earlier today the Taoiseach believes McGrath, and other ministers, should pay up.

The new Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Simon Coveney, followed the Taoiseach’s sentiment, stating:

Government ministers should lead by example, it is the law to pay your taxes … including water charges.

However, he said dealing with the housing crisis is a much more important issue than water charges.

Coveney told Today with Sean O’Rourke it is “extraordinary” that some people continue to put such an emphasis on the water charges issue when there is a huge homelessness and housing problem.

“The heat, politically, that we’ve seen around the Irish Water debate, when you compare it to the seriousness of the housing issues … I find it extraordinary.

“We need to address the water issues, but whether or not the state pays for the equivalent of domestic water charges or whether people in their homes make a contribution towards the cost of delivering water, as I believe they should, that’s an important issue but in comparison to the challenges we face on finding homes for people it is not in the same category,” Coveney said.

The minister, who previously had responsibility for agriculture and defence, said people who have paid water charges shouldn’t be “disadvantaged financially”, adding:

People will not be allowed to get away with not paying.

Water charges are set to be suspended in the coming weeks, after Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil struck an agreement that allows the former to lead a minority government with the support of independent TDs.

Under the terms of the deal, water charges will be suspended for at least nine months. An “external advisory body” will examine Irish Water before reporting to an Oireachtas committee about how best to move forward in terms of the charges.

Coveney said, after this body reports, the government will ”have to make some decisions in terms of how we recoup money that’s owed”.

Coveney said he was “one of the lucky ones” who was offered a few different choices by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in terms of ministries.

“Some people have accused me of having a political death wish because it’s obviously a very controversial, but also a very politically important ministry, in terms of housing particularly, but also obviously the water issues,” he noted.

‘Not afraid to be radical’

Coveney said he and the government have committed to put a new housing strategy in place.

He said he needs to “continue and intensify” the work done by his predecessor Alan Kelly in relation to building houses and working with local authorities to increase the supply of social housing.

I’m not afraid of being radical if that’s what’s necessary.

Coveney said solutions are needed now, not a few years down the line.

“I’m not going to commit to exact figures,” he said, adding that a housing programme will be put in place once he has spoken to relevant stakeholders such as local authorities and homeless charities.

“I regard what’s happening in housing, and in particular for families that are homeless, as a national emergency and we need an immediate response,” he said.

Additional reporting Christina Finn

Read: People who have paid water charges won’t get their money back – Fianna Fáil TD

Read: Former residents occupy homeless hostel in protest over its closure

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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