Difficulties for Dáil committee on water charges after first meeting

The Dáil committee on water charges has hit difficulties after just one meeting, after opposition TDs claimed they were blocked from questioning the author of a Government-commissioned report on the issue.

Sinn Féin, Labour, AAA-PBP, and a small number of Independent TDs made the disputed claim last night, saying that they were only told at a private meeting before the appearance of commission chairman Kevin Duffy that no debate would take place on his statement on the matter.

The 20-person Oireachtas committee on the future funding of domestic water services finally held its first public meeting on the issue yesterday.

The group — comprising six TDs and senators from Fine Gael, five from Fianna Fáil, two from Sinn Féin, one from Labour, one from AAA-PBP, and five unaligned Independents — spent yesterday listening to the views of Mr Duffy.

Mr Duffy chaired the committee behind the recently published, Government-commissioned water charges report, which concluded that the vast majority of people should not have to pay charges, but failed to outline how many people will, and what the charges and cut-off points will be.

During the committee’s first meeting on the findings yesterday, TDs and senators were told they could not question Mr Duffy over his conclusions, provoking hotly disputed claims the decision was a “stitch up” by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

AAA-PBP TD Paul Murphy said he was unaware that no questions would be taken, while Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said he had questions prepared and found the situation “really strange, because we’re meeting to discuss his recommendations”.

Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan was also unaware that no questions would be taken, a view shared by some Independents.

However, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members said the position was outlined in a raft of emailed weekend correspondence from committee chair and Independent senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh.

One Fianna Fáil TD noted pointedly that none of those complaining raised their concerns during the private meeting and that Mr Duffy may return at a later date.

However, opposition TDs said this was because it was clear Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s 11 members would have won the vote.

Meanwhile, it has also been agreed that any committee recommendations will include a qualification explaining who opposed the views. The development is being allowed to appease anti-water charge members, who fear they will be out-voted, and on the condition no alternative ‘minority report’ is drawn up.

However, a Fine Gael TD last night said this showed it would be almost impossible to produce a consensus report, as “some people’s political futures mean water charges not being there doesn’t suit them”.

The committee will publish its recommendations on March 11.


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