Water charges will be suspended for at least nine months should a deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil be agreed, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told the Dáil yesterday.
Outgoing Environment Minister Alan Kelly launched a blistering attack on the proposed Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal to suspend water charges, describing it as “economic and political sabotage”.
In an impassioned address to the Dáil during a debate on the future of Irish Water, Mr Kelly accused Fianna Fáil of “environmental treason” over its call to abolish charges. He warned that the proposed deal has echoes of the 1977 decision to abolish rates, which he said was a massive mistake.
“Today I believe Fianna Fáil are guilty of environmental treason and the 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 due to its stance on Irish Water.
Mr Kelly said the proposed suspension would “make fools” of the 950,000 homes who have paid their water bills.
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 Fáil 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.
Mr Coveney 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, and then an Oireachtas committee, would look at a charging mechanism.
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