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Friday 9 June 2023 Dublin: 17°C
# houston we have a...
A decision on water charges has been kicked down the road... again
The water committee has voted in favour of adjourning until next week.

shutterstock_201387074 Shutterstock / Marek Szandurski Shutterstock / Marek Szandurski / Marek Szandurski

Updated 15.50

THE OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE ON water has voted to adjourn until next Tuesday, delaying the final vote on its report.

It’s understood that Fine Gael wants to seek further legal advice over the weekend on the report, which recommends the scrapping of water charges, the end of the metering programme and refunds for all.

Committee members have until noon tomorrow to submit what segments of the report they have legal concerns about.

The committee voted 15-5 in favour of an adjournment, with Fianna Fáil siding with Fine Gael. The five members who voted against a delay were anti-water charge TDs.

The report was expected to be debated in the Dáil next week, however, due to the work of the committee being incomplete, there are reservations about whether this can actually happen.

If not, the report could be kicked to touch until after the Easter break (the Dáil is due to rise on Good Friday for two weeks).

Loggerheads over water

Bickering over water charges brought tensions to new heights in Leinster House last night.

Yesterday, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil tore into each other following a mammoth seven-hour meeting of the water committee, with the country’s largest party saying it is not willing to stand over the committee’s report as it stands.

“Ultimately, we cannot stand over a politically expedient report that is misleading to the public and ignores the serious consequences for Ireland,” Fine Gael said in a statement.

Following yesterday’s session, the report recommends the scrapping of water charges and the refunding of all those who paid their charges to date.

Fine Gael lost numerous votes at committee yesterday regarding amendments to the report, including a motion to introduce a charge for excessive use of average water usage defined as 133 litres a day.

Semantics surrounding what constitutes excessive usage of water also proved a major bone of contention – with a vote eventually replacing ‘wasteful/abusive’ with ‘excessive’ with ‘penalties’ being included for abusive or wasteful use of water. The straw that broke the camel’s back for Fine Gael, however, was a vote to end mandatory metering of new-build houses.


The first salvo this morning from Fine Gael suggested the party is still simmering over what it sees as Fianna Fáil reneging on a deal.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy denied his party was trying to bring in “back-door water charges”.

“We conceded with the rest of the committee that a generous allowance would be made available for the usage of water, and I remember sitting down with Barry Cowen (Fianna Fáil environment spokesman) and agreeing for people using excessively there would be a charge for that,” he said.

What happened yesterday is that Fianna Fáil got into bed for the first time with the hard-left and Sinn Féin. I don’t know why they decided to take last week’s agreement and throw it out, even their own amendments.

However, Brophy would not be drawn on whether or not his party would breach the government’s confidence and supply agreement by not implementing the committee’s report as it stands.

“We made it very clear, we want to pass legislation to deal with water, but it must be legal. Nobody wants to talk about confidence and supply, they want a discussion on water,” he said.

We’ve made it very clear we want a solution, we don’t want Trump-style alternative facts. We need to discuss with anyone who is willing to engage, how the minister can bring through legal legislation.

Speaking later on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Barry Cowen rejected Brophy’s version of events as “Fine Gael putting a spin on things”.

He alleged that Fine Gael itself had reneged on an agreement regarding the 133 litre allowance – saying that it had decided that allowance should apply per household, not per person as had allegedly been agreed.

“That brings about 25% of the public back into water charges,” he said.

It seems that Simon Coveney was spooked by Leo Varadkar over the weekend, and then suddenly his committee members came in and had a problem with the first sentence of the agreement. Remember that this government wouldn’t have even been formed if a process hadn’t been put in place to deal with water.

Regarding the prospect of the spat bringing down the government, Cowen insisted “we don’t want an election”.

We could have forced one some weeks ago over Maurice McCabe.

Instead he said that “Simon Coveney must reflect on his commitments and the recommendations of the water committee, and bring forward legislation that is in line with that”.


best buds Oireachtas TV Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, pictured in Leinster House this afternoon Oireachtas TV

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar reiterated his belief that the confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael allows for both parties to “adopt differing positions on any consequent legislation being debated”.

Varadkar, who was standing in for Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald at Leaders’ Questions and was seated beside expected leadership rival Coveney for the duration (Mary Lou McDonald said it was “touching to see the solidarity between the two of you”), confirmed in no uncertain terms that the government “will not do anything contrary to EU law and the interests of the environment, we have always been very clear on that”.

When Solidarity/PBP TD Paul Murphy contended that the anti-water charges movement was on the verge of “total victory”, Varadkar dismissed the assertion.

“I want to congratulate you Deputy Murphy on one enormous success, and it is not your role regarding water charges, it is in reducing Fianna Fáil, the party of Lemass, to being the party that determines its role solely on its fear of you and Sinn Féin and the hard left,” he said.

Regarding the charges themselves, he said:

What is this total victory? Everyone agrees it (water) has to be paid for, now it’s coming from general taxation meaning a hard-working citizen is paying for his reckless neighbour’s over-usage.
That’s not a victory, that’s bad policy.

‘We have a problem’

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea took the brinksmanship up a notch on Morning Ireland, saying that if Fine Gael don’t follow the recommendations of the water committee the government will “have a problem”.

“We didn’t go back on our word, the reverse is the case,” he said. “We had two policies in the General Election: abolish Irish Water and get rid of water charges – and we were forced to abandon the first in order to put a government together.”

7457 Private Members Bills_90501993 Leah Farrell Willie O'Dea Leah Farrell

He added that to say Fianna Fáil had agreed to a household charge for excessive usage is “completely and utterly untrue”.

“We’ve had 20 meetings. They are talking about what the Expert Commission recommended, we made it clear that wasn’t on. Fine Gael said they were going along with this. At the last meeting they said they wanted to go back to the Expert Commission.”

The confidence and supply agreement is unambiguous – the government is obliged to bring forward legislation (as recommended by the water committee), whether by unanimous or majority vote. There is no reference to the attorney general or legal advice. If Simon Coveney tries to hide behind the skirts of the attorney general, then we have a fundamental breach of confidence and supply.
No one wants to face the people in an election over water, including myself, but we are supporting the confidence and supply agreement. We’ve adhered to it rigidly, often making ourselves very unpopular with our own supporters.

“If Fine Gael decide to unilaterally walk away from a fundamental condition in that agreement well then we have a problem.”

Final vote

When the water committee eventually votes on its final report, it will then be debated in the Dáil.

This was expected to take place next week, however, with today’s vote delay, it remains uncertain when this will take place.

If the committee’s recommendations are not implemented and facilitated through legislation, Minister Simon Coveney (who claims they are not legal as they stand), that would almost certainly manifest as a breach of the two largest parties’ confidence and supply agreement, the agreement that allows the current precariously-positioned minority government to function.

Last night, finger-pointing was very much dominating the discourse of the two parties. If that is not to lead to a collapse in government, you would imagine some heavy-duty negotiations between the two bickering parties will have to come next.

leo TV3 Leo Varadkar speaking on TV3 last night TV3

“It has become political,” Leo Varadkar told Pat Kenny Tonight on TV3 last night.

“Let’s not forget it was Fianna Fáil back in 2010 with the Greens, long before the troika arrived, who decided we’d bring in metering and water charges, and whatever about me, or Fianna Fáil, or Fine Gael, what’s important is the future of our country, conserving water, and protecting the environment,” he said.

Asked whether or not Fianna Fáil genuinely care about Ireland’s environment, Varadkar replied:

I think they care about themselves, and their own electoral prospects, much more than they care about our environment, or what’s right in policy terms.
I think that’s disappointing; it’s an abdication of leadership by a party.

There may have been something of an olive branch however – Varadkar did describe Fianna Fáil as a party “which in the past showed great leadership”.

Additional reporting Christina Finn 

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