Confusion over charges and split on referendum

The escalating row over water charges threatens to split the Coalition amid continuing confusion over what households will be asked to pay for the controversial levy.

It has also emerged that one in four households who have so far responded to Irish Water’s registration campaign have said they are not water customers or refused to pay charges.

Tánaiste Joan Burton yesterday signalled that charges look set to be capped for at least two years and longer in a bid to defuse public anger.

But her party broke ranks yesterday when Labour senators voted against their Fine Gael colleagues and sided with an Opposition call for a referendum to keep Irish Water in public ownership.

Her claim that a family of four adults will pay less than €200 was also played down by Enda Kenny, who said this was her “personal” belief and that no decision had been made yet.

Despite his earlier dismissal of a referendum on Irish Water’s ownership, Labour leaders also said there was “no difficulty” in looking at the matter following the Seanad vote.

Irish Water boss John Tierney met TDs in Leinster House last night where it was pledged the utility will now give Oireachtas members a weekly update.

Mr Tierney also gave TDs figures on the numbers of households who had returned registration packs or had refused to pay charges.

Of the 830,000 who responded to its registration campaign, 182,000 said that they are not customers of Irish Water and have other sources of water. Another 16,000 returned packs saying they would not consent to charges while a further 19,000 refused to accept packs from postmen.

During heated discussions at both parties’ parliamentary meetings last night, Fine Gael and Labour leaders also heard concerns about the direction the Government is going.

Fine Gael backbenchers raised questions about the inner Cabinet, the Economic Management Council, where key issues are being teased out including Irish Water.

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin twice warned Mr Kenny the party should not take his support for granted. He earlier told Radio Kerry he was “close” to leaving Government.

Dublin TD Eoghan Murphy said the Government was setting a “bad precedence” deciding key matters behind closed doors in the EMC.

At Labour’s meeting, one TD warned that the party could “disappear” at the next general election after a recent poll left it with just 7% support.

The EMC will meet today and discuss water charges but no decision is expected. Ministers have signalled that announcements on what homes will pay and when is expected in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, the High Court has granted a 20m exclusion zone around water meter installations which is expected to lead to further stand-offs between protesters and gardaí.

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Water referendum must 'not be rushed', says Eoghan Murphy Water referendum must 'not be rushed', says Eoghan Murphy

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