Latest: Oireachtas committee fails to reach agreement on water charges

Latest: Oireachtas committee fails to reach agreement on water charges

Update 4.45pm: A meeting of the Oireachtas committee on water charges has failed to reach agreement about the possibility of scrapping charges entirely.

The 20-member committee will instead be given another draft of a final report next Tuesday.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have continued to clash today about the legality of water charges being scrapped for all customers.

Update 2.45pm: Simon Coveney is insisting he will not introduce any laws to totally scrap water charges, claiming it would be illegal under EU law.

But the Housing Minister says he hopes the dispute doesn't result in a general election - because the public doesn't want one.

Earlier the Taoiseach hinted that legislation to scrap water charges could be facilitated as long as it was tabled by someone else.

Latest: Oireachtas committee fails to reach agreement on water charges

Simon Coveney says there is no need to collapse the Government over it: “Well I certainly hope not.

“I think people would be very surprised and annoyed if there was a general election on this issue, we have big issues to solve whether it is Brexit, whether it is housing, whether it is homelessness, whether it is health care reform or education, so may more things at the moment that the Government is working on at the moment, in some cases with Fianna Fáil.”

Update 1pm: Fianna Fáil says the Government will collapse if it refuses to implement the findings of the Oireachtas committee on water charges.

But Enda Kenny is insisting the Government cannot introduce legislation which it believes would break EU law.

The Oireachtas committee on water charges is meeting again this afternoon to discuss whether there should be a charge for excessive use'.

In the Dáil Enda Kenny said the Government couldn't be expected to ignore the advice of its own Attorney General: “Minister Coveney has at his disposal, legal advice that is very strong and very clear and I am sure if ever you sit on these benches, as Minister for whatever, you would not be putting through legislation that you have very strong legal advice that it is illegal to do so.”

Update 11.41am: Fianna Fail have warned that any attempt to undermine or bring down a committee examining the future of water charges could breach a deal with Fine Gael and potentially cause a general election, writes political correspondent Juno McEnroe.

Party housing spokesman Barry Cowen (pictured) warned that if Housing Minister Simon Coveney didn't do what the Oireachtas committee wanted that this could result in an election.

Latest: Oireachtas committee fails to reach agreement on water charges

The fresh warning by the Fianna Fail TD comes after Minister Coveney on Tuesday night also laid down a warning that he is not willing to completely scrap water charges, as this would be illegal.

He said that a move to rule out any excess charge would be against advice from the Attorney General and the European Commission.

The standoff from both sides is the most serious yet since the confidence and supply agreement was made between Fine Gael and Fianna Fai last year.

The Oireachtas committee resumes deliberations about its report today, which will recommend to the Dail on how to deal with charges before a final vote at the end of March.

Mr Cowen though, speaking to Sean O'Rourke on RTE, said Fianna Fail now considered that the full abolishment of charges was the best way forward. Any 'excess' charge for wasting water could be expensive to process and bring back little in revenue, he said. This is the model preferred by Fine Gael.

Existing legislation instead could be used to pursue people wasting water, said Mr Cowen.

He said Minister Coveney's intervention was “extraordinary” and risked “undermining” the work of the committee.

The confidence and supply agreement between the two parties could “break down”, admitted the Offaly TD, but it didn't need to.

Minister Coveney could not bring the committee down or refuse to implement its recommendations as this would “definitely cause a general election,” added Mr Cowen.

Update 10.30am: Fine Gael is rejecting accusations that the Housing Minister has interfered in the work of the water services committee.

Last night Simon Coveney insisted he would not bring in laws on a new system if they do not include charges for wasting water.

Latest: Oireachtas committee fails to reach agreement on water charges

That is despite the fact the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail requires him to introduce legislation to support the system agreed.

Sinn Fein's Eoin O'Broin, who is a member of the committee, was not impressed with the Minister's comments: “The intervention by Minister Coveney last night is quite unprecedented.

“He set this process up, he said he wanted us to deliberate and deliver a report and at that point the Oireachtas would have its say.

“I think what he was doing last night was interfering.”

Update 9.29am: Fianna Fáil has accused Housing Minister Simon Coveney of disrespecting the Oireachtas committee charged with addressing water charges.

His comment comes after the Minister intervened last night and said he would not bring in laws on a new system - if they do not include charges for wasting the utility.

The Confidence and Supply Arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil requires him to introduce legislation to support the system agreed by the committee.

Michael McGrath
Michael McGrath

Fianna Fáil's Spokesperson for Finance Michael McGrath says the intervention is disrespectful.

“What Simon Coveney said last night means that Fine Gael would be flagrantly breaching the agreement they entered into with Fianna Fáil whereby they gave a commitment to facilitate the passage of legislation in Dáil Éireann to give effect to the will of the Dáil,” he said.

“So he seems to be prepared to throw that out the window.

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

“We are honouring our agreement and we’re not going to be derailed by Simon Coveney’s efforts to come across as the strong man in all of this.”

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, who is a member of the committee which is working on the water service funding, has dismissed the accusation against Minister Coveney as 'hilarious' and says he is hopeful the issue can be resolved.

Alan Farrell
Alan Farrell

“The Committee has to consider the amount of work left,” he said.

“We’re not a point where we’re drafting the final remarks. We’re not done yet, and I think that this matter can be … I hope that this matter can be resolved.”

Earlier:

A fresh row has emerged over water charges which could put pressure on the Confidence and Supply Arrangement between FineGael and Fianna Fáil.

The deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil included setting up an Oireachtas Committee to decide the future of water charges - with Housing Minister Simon Coveney to introduce whatever laws that new system would require.

Latest: Oireachtas committee fails to reach agreement on water charges

However, in a dramatic intervention last night, he said he would not bring forward those laws if the new system did not include charges for households who waste water.

Minister Coveney says European law requires those measures, and he would legislate to drop them.

"It is that I won't, but it's really that I can't," he said.

"I'm not going to take a position that is contrary to the independent legal advice the Government has from the Attorney General's office.

"That would just be blatant irresponsible of me, and I won't do it."

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