Confusion rife as €200 family water bills signalled

Average family water bills of €200 were signalled as the Coalition continued to send out confusing messages on the charging regime.

Fine Gael and Labour were still hammering out how a more voter-friendly system would work as attachments on the welfare benefits or salaries of non-payers, rather than the formal involvement of Revenue, emerged as the main weapon against a mass boycott of the charges when bills drop in late January.

With the revamped package not expected to go to Cabinet until at least a week tomorrow a Government source summed up the situation saying: “Different people have different views on different parts of it.”

However, Energy Minister Alex White indicated that reports the average family bill could be just over €200 a year, while single occupancy homes would pay €80 were “going in the right direction” as the structure would stay in place for up to four years.

The figures appear to fit roughly with the energy regulator’s estimates once a €100 tax or welfare rebate has been added in.

The move came as Health Minister Leo Varadkar again attacked “sinister” elements in the anti-water charge protest groups, as he told Newstalk that dissident Republicans were using the demonstrations to advance their own political agenda.

The ongoing Coalition division on how to move forward on water charges were highlighted by Mr White, leaving the option of holding a referendum to enshrine public ownership of Irish Water on the table, despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny dismissing the proposal.

Mr White insisted that any decision on a national vote would require “more work” as its outcome could be open to unintended interpretation by the courts.

Mr White, who was defeated by Joan Burton in the Labour leadership contest, also questioned the continued role of the controversial Economic Management Council made up of the taoiseach, tánaiste, finance minister and public expenditure and reform minister, which makes key decisions ahead of cabinet scrutiny.

Before she became Tánaiste, Ms Burton was publicly critical of the EMC’s power, but has remained quiet on the issue since gaining a seat on the council in July.

The energy minister, who has been admitted to EMC meetings on water along with Environment Minister Alan Kelly, indicated to RTÉ that full cabinet government was preferable.

“I would say that I think it’s right that the Cabinet should have sub-committees for other areas dealing with the economy, as it’s had during the economic crisis that followed the last government,” Mr White said.

The intervention came as Irish Water has admitted spending €8m on consultants and externals service so far this year.

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