Water charges look likely to be permanently axed as a Dáil vote will now be required for their reintroduction writes Elaine Loughlin and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.
It comes as householders could be set to receive more than €130m in refunds or credits amid talks of scrapping Irish Water. The charges are due to be suspended from July.
Under a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael deal due to be finalised today, the reintroduction of the controversial charges would have to be passed by the Dáil which is highly unlikely given its current makeup.
Political parties also support refunding charges to those who paid water charges if the Irish Water is permanently scrapped.
However, those who have paid the charges could have to wait at least 18 months until the finding of an independent commission and a Dáil committee before the possibility of any refund.
Another option being discussed is the possibility of introducing a credit system whereby those who have already paid fees may be given discounts if charges return in any form.
It comes as Environment Minister Alan Kelly launched a scathing attack on the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil agreement to suspend water charges claiming it would breach EU rules and would lead to severe water shortages in Dublin.
Describing the deal as “environmental treason”, Mr Kelly told the Dáil: “I believe we are about to witness the triumph of mediocrity over modernism, of short-termism over common sense and immaturity over innovation.”
Last night both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary parties met to discuss a deal being hammered out by negotiators today.
Micheál Martin tried to play the notion of refunds down by telling the meeting that those who have not paid would be pursued.
Although Fine Gael are seen to have made the greatest concessions in the deal, last night’s meeting was described as calm as Mr Kenny had rang a number of outspoken TDs beforehand.
It is understood the Taoiseach had pacified a number of his party members with promises of ministerial positions and other perks.
Members of the Independent Alliance as well as rural Independent TDs are on standby to re-enter talks with Enda Kenny’s party and could sit down for discussions tomorrow after receiving the minority government document which is set to be agreed by the two larger parties.
However, talks with Independents could extend into the weekend and early next week with many yesterday stating they would not simply be “rubber stamping” the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael document.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have all but come to an agreement on the water issue with the suspension of charges, which would be voted upon in the Dáil. But the decision to end this suspension would also have to be voted on by the Dáil which would be almost impossible to pass.
Under the deal an independent commission looking into Irish Water would sit for nine months before making recommendations on whether to retain, change or completely scrap water charges.
A cross-party Oireachtas committee would then be established to look into the issue and its findings would finally be referred to the Dáil. The whole process is expected to take around 18 months.
Yesterday Richard Bruton said people would have to be refunded if the decision is made to scrap water charges completely.
This was echoed by Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner