Update 4.08pm: Water charges will be suspended for at least nine months should a deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told the Dail today, writes Daniel McConnell, Irish Examiner Political Editor.
Outgoing Environment Minister Alan Kelly launched a blistering attack on the proposed Fine Gael-Fianna Fail deal to suspend water charges, describing it as “economic and political sabotage”.
In an impassioned address to the Dail during a debate on the future of Irish Water, Mr Kelly accused Fianna Fail of “environmental treason” over their call to abolish charges and he warned the proposed deal has echoes of the 1977 decision to abolish rates, which he said was a massive mistake.
“Today I believe Fianna Fail are guilty of environmental treason and Labour party stands behind the important public service of water provision.
“Politics is failing the people of the country again. Utopian populism is winning again. It’s Groundhog day. We will regret it, just as we did in 77,” he said.
Mr Kelly was speaking on behalf of the Labour Party which suffered significant losses in February’s General Election, primarily of its stance on Irish Water. The party is livid at the proposed deal.
Mr Kelly said the proposed suspension would “make fools” of the 950,000 homes who have paid their water bills.
The people who paid of which there are approximately 950,000 households may be about to be made “fools” of and the 340,000 people who already paid for water are being given nothing but disregard by Fianna Fail, Mr Kelly said.
Suggesting that there has been a fall-off in the numbers of people paying their water bills, Mr Kelly said Irish Water reported to him that during the election the payment rate actually increased and while not all the data was collected, it was likely that a payment rate of 70% was likely.
“I am concerned that the deal between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael has not been made with any kind of engineering expertise or with the knowledge of the people who have to implement water investment. Did the negotiators even engage with Irish Water management?” he said.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney later defended the establishment of Irish Water.
He told the Dail that Fine Gael "will secure the future of Irish Water" and oversee a charging system "based on evidence and what is right."
Mr Coveney said water charges could be suspended for period of nine months while an independent Commission after which an Oireachtas Committee will look at charging mechanism.
He admitted the parties of the previous Government can no longer impose their will on the Dáil.
Independent TD Clare Daly accused Fine Gael and Labour of betraying the Irish people by introducing Irish Water.
She said the two parties were “hammered by the people”.
“You lost the election. We should not be discussing a political fudge, but abolishing water charges,” she said.
Update 4pm: Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said issues relating to Irish Water and water charges should be dealt with in the Dáil, and not via a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil “carve-up”.
Speaking in the Dáil during a debate on Irish Water this afternoon, Deputy Adams said: “Every TD elected to the Dáil has been elected with a mandate to fulfil the commitments they made to the electorate.
“A clear majority of the Deputies elected on this occasion sought and won a mandate to abolish Irish Water and scrap water charges.
“Sinn Féin’s view is that Irish Water should go and that water charges should be scrapped. That is our mandate. It is also Fianna Fáil’s mandate.
“Fianna Fáil’s manifesto, not once, but in three separate sections clearly calls for the abolition of Irish Water and the scrapping of water charges.
“It says nothing about the suspension of charges, or maintaining the mechanism for charging on the statue books.
“If they were serious about fulfilling their election commitments, they would support a vote on a motion listed on the Order Paper that’s been put forward by 39 TDs calling for an end to domestic water charges.
“After that vote, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could go back to negotiations in the knowledge that the issue of water charges has been handled in a democratic, transparent and open fashion to the satisfaction of the people who sent us all here.”
Update 3pm: Acting Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has criticised the two main parties after agreement on some kind of compromise on Irish Water was reached.
Opening Dáil statements on water charges this afternoon, Alan Kelly's lashed the proposal from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as "political, economic and environmental sabotage".
Deputy Kelly was stinging in his criticism of those who believe the company should be disbanded.
“Fianna Fail had the chance to make a stand on mental health services, on renewal of rural Ireland, to end child poverty or to institute a living wage, yet they have made a stand on an issue that costs people €3 a week,” he said.
“Let’s be clear on the decision that may be made shortly. A suspension or scrapping of charges will lose billions of potential investment in water and I believe we will have water shortages in Dublin in future years.”
He added: “If you don’t govern by your values and govern based on public opinion alone, then you will never achieve anything.
“A former politician once stood in this house and accused Fianna Fáil of economic treason – today I believe Fianna Fail are guilty of environmental treason and Labour party stands behind the important public service of water provision. Politics is failing the people of the country again.
“Utopian populism is winning again. It’s Groundhog Day.”
Earlier: A senior Fine Gael TD has admitted the party “made a hames” of the introduction of water charges and the establishment of Irish Water, writes Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter.
It comes as negotiations between both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael continue to finalise an agreement around water charges.
Under the deal, water charges would be put on hold and the issue would be dealt with by a commission of independent experts who would then report back with recommendations.
This morning Richard Bruton indicated that if charges are scrapped completely, those who have paid up to now may be refunded.
Although talks are still underway, senior members of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have said they expect a Government to be formed in the coming days.
Speaking this afternoon, Regina Doherty said: “We made a hames of an awful lot with regard to Irish Water over the last years and we have rued those mistakes and that’s why we find ourselves in the position that we are in now.”
However, she said that politically the country is in a “far better” position now than it was yesterday with regard to a deal on water charges.
“We are still having a single authority that is going to look after the national programme of investment in water and water infrastructure that’s a really good thing,” she told RTE’s News at One programme.
“We are going to start an educational programme which we really should have started from day one.
“The whole premise of starting to charge for water was so that we could educate people to the value of water, the amount of water we use so that if we use less we would have to treat less and the overall cost would come down.”
The Fine Gael parliamentary party are due to meet for a what is expected to be a lengthy discussion on the deal at 4pm, while the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party will meet at 6.30pm.
Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea described the deal which is expected to be finalised by negotiators today as a “very good compromise”.
“There are no celebrations. It’s not a question of who blinked, it’s not a question of one side having victory over the other. This is a very good compromise,” he said.
He added that the deal which would see a commission set up to review water charges would take the issue off the agenda and allow the Dáil to address other pressing issues.
“I don’t think we will be talking water for the next couple of months,” Mr O’Dea said.
“I think this will take the matter off the agenda to enable a Government to be put in place, albeit a minority government, that will give the country some degree of stability.”