Latest: SF accuses Government of 'bully-boy tactics' on water issue

Update 3.08pm: Sinn Féin has accused the Government of "bully-boy tactics" and of trying to "sabotage" the water committee.

There were rowdy scenes in the Dáil today after the committee got fresh legal advice effectively overturning the changes made last week.

The same senior counsel who advised that the changes were acceptable last week now says the report must put back in the words “excessive use” and “levies”, as well as installing meters in all new builds.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald told Enda Kenny he must remember he has lost on the water issue.

“And the bully-boys of your Government wish now to sabotage the work of the committee,” she said.

“Like all bullies, Taoiseach, you cannot accept when you have lost - and indeed, you are now trying to bully your friends in Fianna Fáil into a u-turn.”

Update 12.57pm: Legal advice given to the Oireachtas Water Committee suggests a deal struck between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the future of water services is back on the table, writes Juno McEnroe.

"Excessive" use or similar words should be reinstated in the proposed legislation, the advice suggests, a measure which will please Fine Gael.

Building regulations should also decide if new builds should have water meters put in them, a scenario which could see half a million homes metered over the next 20 years.

This figure was provided by Housing Minister Simon Coveney last week.

The advice to the 20-member committee suggests that the energy regulator should decide how the allowance for water or threshold should be decided, a move which will get both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil off the hook.

The advice suits both parties, though in that it recommends that water allowances should be based on household size and that the average use or threshold at the moment is 133 litres per person per day.

The committee will regroup at 1pm to vote and decide on its final recommendations.

Negotiations on water charges broke down in the last fortnight between the Government and Fianna Fáil, whose support Fine Gael needs to stay in power.

Statements in the Dáil later this evening are now expected on the report.

But the fresh deal-largely resembling what the two major parties agreed two weeks ago-has angered TDs with Right2Water on the committee, who include Sinn Fein, Solidarity and Independents.

Sinn Fein's Eoin O'Broin said that these proposed changes, based on the legal advice, were a "deal breaker" for the five Right2Water members and would be opposed.

The committee is expected to recommend that the old system of water charges be refunded, which would see some €160m in bills returned to households.

But an excess charge or penalty using beefed up 2007 legislation will be applied to households wasting water, under the legal advice that will guide the committee.

Update 11.44am: The Public Expenditure Minister says a resolution can be reached on water charges.

It comes as the special Oireachtas committee on water is meeting in a bid to reach an agreement ahead of the publication of its report.

Fine Gael is worried the current format will lead to fines from the EU, with Fianna Fáil believing their legal advice says otherwise.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe says a deal can be reached: "I am confident that if all parties in the Dáil, but particularly Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, that the space is there to find resolution on the matter.

"The public expects this matter to be dealt with."

Earlier: An Oireachtas Committee is due to sign off today on its recommendations to abolish water charges and allow refunds for customers.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and his party colleagues want the Government to bring in legislation to enact the report, but Fine Gael is insisting that the committee's findings represent a breach of EU law.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin O'Broin says Fine Gael has previously committed to legislate for whatever the Committee proposes.

"Today the water Committee will hopefully meet for the final time," he said.

"We have a full draft report, and there is a clear majority that the committee is going to support it so what Sinn Féin would like to see, irrespective of the difficulties between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the committee, meets, votes on the report and then the report goes to the Dáil for full debate on Thursday."


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