Senior Government figures have insisted there are no plans to block people who fail to pay their Irish Water bills from receiving the €100 “water conservation” grant after backbench TDs strongly hinted at the move.
Tánaiste Joan Burton, Environment Minister Alan Kelly, Transport Minister Paschal Donohue, and spokespeople for both of the Coalition parties shot down the suggestion yesterday, saying there are no plans to bring proposals to change the current system to Cabinet.
Despite the denials, opposition parties criticised the Government for the latest Irish Water row, claiming it has taken a “backbencher revolt” for the Coalition to re-examine the issue.
Media reports yesterday said Labour deputy leader Mr Kelly was set to recommend the move to Cabinet when it returns next month.
In particular, Fine Gael TDs Eoghan Murphy, Paul Connaughton, Brendan Griffin, and Ray Butler, along with Senator Catherine Noone, raised concerns over people getting the fund who were registered with Irish Water but not paying bills.
Senior government figures were insistent yesterday that this was not the case and that no changes were planned.
A spokesman for Mr Kelly said despite calls to limit the €100 payment — which is ostensibly for water conservation but is widely seen as an incentive to sign up to Irish Water — nothing is “on the table” for the Cabinet.
He said recent meetings between Mr Kelly and Irish Water did not see the matter raised.
He said it is “not the case” that changes will take place, and claimed it may not be “practical” to differentiate between people registered with Irish Water who are not paying bills and registered customers using “private wells or septic tank schemes”.
A spokesperson for Ms Burton said the Labour leader was not aware of any proposed changes and did not expect them to be raised at Cabinet.
Mr Donohue also denied the changes yesterday.
The Department of the Environment later rejected the alleged move as “completely untrue”.
While one Labour figure said he was “not sure if it was a co-ordinated attempt by Fine Gael” and “seems to be coming from a particular number of TDs”, a Fine Gael spokesperson said the party is not aware of plans to change grant eligibility criteria and that it is a decision for the Department of the Environment to make.
Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen claimed the problem was that “every time Alan Kelly picks up the phone to a journalist, the Irish Water policy changes”.
Sinn Féin housing spokesman Dessie Ellis said the Government is at “sixes and sevens” over the issue.
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