The Right2Water campaign have been accused of doing a major u-turn after it said that those who abuse or waste water should face charges, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor.
The concession by the group, which has been vehemently opposed to water charges, was seen as a major climbdown by the Government.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney, responding to an Irish Examiner online report of the comments, described the u-turn as a “interesting development”.
Addressing the Dáil's new Water committee, representatives of the Right2Water group agreed that charges should apply in cases where people use excessive amounts of water.
Under questioning from Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen, Stevie Fitzpatrick and David Gibney were pressed about previous comments from Brendan Ogle, the high-profile spokesman for the Right2Water campaign.
“Mr Ogle, like Mr Gibney, speaks for the Right2Water movement. He was asked specifically if he opposed charging people for excessive use and he said he was not. Does the Right2Water movement share that viewpoint?,” Mr Cowen asked.
Mr Fitzpatrick responded “It is the viewpoint”.
“If this committee was in a position to agree a process by which people who use excessive amounts, in the opinion of this committee, were charged, is Right2Water happy with that?” asked Mr Cowen.
“Yes,” was the response from Mr Fitzpatrick.
Mr Cowen asked at what level did the witnesses think was appropriate to consider excessive.
“Let us say the Minister said 123 litres a day was acceptable and we suggested the limit should be two or three times that amount and recommended a swimming pool take for beyond that amount. How would the witnesses penalise people who use more than that amount of water?” he asked.
Mr Gibney responded: “In terms of swimming pools, I live in a community that does not have a swimming pool and I do not know anyone who owns a swimming pool.
“Right2Water is not opposed to the Government introducing a swimming pool tax.
“There might be a provision in terms of commercial water charges and taxes. If we want to address waste then let us address areas where water is wasted.
“As much as 41% of water is lost through leaks.”
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Cowen, said the statement by the Right2Water spokespeople was “truly significant”.
Mr Gibney said the Government has given €2.7bn in tax cuts in recent years while funding for water services has been cut.
“If you want to fund water properly, stop giving away tax cuts, so let's address the core issue,” he said.
Mr Gibney questioned the Government's strategy of reducing the Universal Social Charge and he singled out Bank of Ireland boss Richie Boucher as to how much he pays.
“Richie Boucher, who works for Bank of Ireland, pays €63,000 in USC because he is a high earner. That is equivalent to a salary for two nurses,” Mr Gibney said.
Committee chairman Padraig O Ceidigh told Mr Gibney it was not appropriate to name individuals like that.
Mr Gibney was forced to apologise.
Fine Gael's Martin Heydon accused Mr Gibney of being opposed to cutting taxes for ordinary workers.
He said that 6% of the highest earners in this country pay 49% of the income tax and USC, which is a fairly substantial figure.
“They are also the key people who drive business and economic activity in this country,” said Mr Heydon.
“I am surprised that Mr Gibney is opposed to cuts in income tax for ordinary workers,” he added.