The Government has failed to clarify if people who have not paid water charges will be pursued through the courts, tax or social welfare payments systems.
Education Minister Richard Bruton repeatedly side-stepped the issue during a Dáil debate yesterday, as the Coalition was accused of trying to bring back charges “through the back door” of “excessive” water usage.
Speaking during the Leaders’ Questions debate, Mr Bruton, who took the place of US-bound Taoiseach Enda Kenny, was questioned over the exact implications of Tuesday’s water commission report.
However, despite direct questions over how people who have refused to pay the charges to date will be treated and calls for clarity on whether fees for “excessive” usage are a way to quietly re-introduce charges, he did not give any firm answers on the issues.
Questioned by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald about Housing and Local Government Minister Simon Coveney’s comments yesterday that people who have not paid to date will be “pursued”, Mr Bruton did not explain what the plan will involve.
Asked specifically if it relates to “pursuing through the courts, revenue or through social welfare payments”, Mr Bruton instead said “no one who did their civic duty and paid up” should be unfairly treated”.
During a separate exchange, AAA-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett warned Mr Bruton the water commission report’s recommendation that an as yet undefined “vast majority” of people will not pay fees while those using “excessive” amounts of water will face charges is a “fudge to save the blushes of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil”.
Mr Boyd Barrett said the report found there was no reason for Ireland to have a charging system as the country uses 20% less water per home than Britain where charges are in place. He said this shows ‘the polluter pays’ principle is not based on logic.
However, Mr Bruton said the issue needs to be “deliberated in a mature way” by the 20-person cross-party Oireachtas committee examining the findings, adding pointedly, that Mr Boyd Barrett is a member of this group.
The responses led to an angry reaction from Ms McDonald, who said the public has made it clear there can be “no return of water charges through the front or back door” and that “given your track record, how could anyone trust you”.
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