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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 13 December, 2019
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Water charges will be taken from people's wages or dole

Here’s everything you need to know about what’s happening in Irish politics right now…

Updated: 12.07

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Everyone’s talking about…

The issue of water charges is dominating headlines again this morning.

Changes to the Water Charges Environment Minister Alan Kelly Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Today the Cabinet is expected to discuss legislation that would allow water charges to be deducted from people’s wages or social welfare payments.

Under the new law, the threat of jail for non-payment of general debt bills, including those from Irish Water, will be removed. The proposals are based on recommendations made by a Law Reform Commission report in 2010, which advised attachment orders be applied to earnings.

The departments of justice and the environment have been working on the legislation. Separately, Alan Kelly’s department is looking into the issue of tenants who refuse to pay Irish Water bills.

The charges are €160 per year for a single-adult household and €260 for houses with more than one adult. Households are eligible for a conservation grant of €100 from the department of social protection.

A minimum threshold is expected to apply to social welfare payments so large amounts cannot be taken out. The government has always said it will distinguish between those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay.

Penalties for non-payment will not apply until next summer – after the general election.

Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty told Morning Ireland removing the threat of jail is the right decision, however he said the government would be “silly” to think the move will “get rid of the huge public anger” about water charges.

In a statement released this morning, Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the government is likely “pre-emptively moving to avoid the political nightmare of having to jail struggling debtors, thereby confirming its image as debt collectors for the European banks and bondholders”.

Cabinet 434 copy Brendan Howlin Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Speaking on his way into the Cabinet meeting, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said the new law was “a good idea”.

I think we’re all concerned about people going to jail for two hours for not paying their TV licence and so on. For general debt – whether it’s for the local plumber or the local electrician who can’t collect his debt – there should be some provision that that can be collected, and water obviously falls into that category.

Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins weighed in on the issue this afternoon, saying it was “a very cynical move by the government”.

“Effectively it’s a manoeuvre to shore up Irish Water,” Collins said, adding that it was “a step too far” to take the charge from people’s social welfare payments.

When you consider that a social welfare payment is the safety net which people have to live on and exist on when they fall on hard times or when they’re out of work, you can’t have a situation that because of inability to pay that the State is going to go after their very meagre social welfare payment.

Collins added that Fianna Fáil does not encourage people to break the law by not paying the charge.

With the anti-water charge movement saying tens of thousands of people will boycott their bills, it will be interesting to see what effect the new measures may have on registration and payment.

The Cabinet is due to reconvene this evening to discuss the proposals.

The agenda

  • The Cabinet will meet this morning and this evening.
  • Richie Boucher, Group Chief Executive of Bank of Ireland, will appear before the banking inquiry at 9.30am.
  • Ministers James Reilly and Alex White will attend a 1916 commemoration ceremony at Arbour Hill at 9.30am.
  • Representatives from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) will attend an education committee meeting at 1pm to discuss the use of ICT in primary schools.
  • Tánaiste Joan Burton will answer questions related to social protection at 2.30pm.

Action Plan For Jobs. Pictured Tanaist Joan Burton Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

  • Cormac McCarthy, former Group CEO of Ulster Bank, will be questioned by members of the banking committee at 2.30pm.
  • Leaders’ Questions will take place at 4.33pm.
  • During Private Members’ Business at 6pm, TDs will debate a Fianna Fáil motion on the controversial sale of Siteserv by IBRC (formerly Anglo). The party wants an an independent commission of inquiry to be set up.
  • Junior finance minister Simon Harris will discuss the Spring Statement with Senators at 7pm.
  • The parliamentary parties will meet this evening.

What the others are saying

  • Several papers report that Cabinet will also discuss giving the courts the power to force employers to accept recommendations on worker’s pay and conditions.
  • Labour has been promised the bankruptcy term will be reduced by the end of the year, according to the Irish Times.
  • The same paper reports that tax cuts in the next budget will focus on the universal social charge (USC), not the top rate of tax.
  • The Irish Examiner reports that former junior health minister Róisín Shortall has urged the government to take action to tackle the problem of pregnant women drinking alcohol.

Inside Leinster House

Right-to-die campaigner Tom Curran told us several TDs and Senators are willing to break party ranks to support his bill on assisted suicide.

The legislation is expected to be debated in the coming weeks.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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