Fianna Fáil accused of wanting to punish those who paid water charges

Fianna Fáil has been accused of wanting to punish people who paid water charges as the opposition party faced criticism for calling for a delay in refunding the 1m homes which paid.

The suggestion that refunds be delayed or spread out over a year or two has prompted an accusation that this is “a comical continuation of their flip-flopping on the issue of water”.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe this week confirmed that refunds would cost €178m and this would come from over €300m in unspent department and agency funds this year. There is some concern that these funds may then be diverted away from services, a claim denied by Mr Donohoe.

Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary, though, suggested that refunds could be delayed or spread out over a year or two, so as not to adversely affect services or state finances.

But Fine Gael’s Noel Rock attacked this notion yesterday, saying: “It is absolutely vital that those who paid water charges are no worse off than those who didn’t pay, and I can’t believe Fianna Fáil want to delay refunds even further.

“The only policy Fianna Fáil ever had on water was to consistently U-turn on its previous position. Its latest move is a comical continuation of its flip-flopping on the issue of water. It simply can’t seem to determine its stance on the matter.

“This is typical flip- flopping by the party which originally wanted to charge the public a flat €500 charge for water and now doesn’t want to refund the 61% of people who paid the water charges and are now entitled to a refund,” insisted the Dublin North West TD.

Party colleague and Cork Senator Jerry Buttimer also criticised any notion of delaying water charge refunds for households.

“This Government is determined to refund the charges by the end of the year, paid for by an underspend across Departments,” he said.

“The refunds will not impact on Budget 2018.”

The Cabinet is expected to meet early in the autumn and decide how monies will be repaid and when. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged that households will be paid over the next several weeks and by the end of the year.

A key issue that has yet to be resolved is how Irish Water will actually refund people. The company suggests this may be done through a number of ways.

In a statement to the media, Irish Water said: “An operation on this scale requires a period of time to plan it properly, get our systems ready and provide any staff training needed.

“Only 20% of customers paid by direct debit, which represents the easiest cohort to refund.

“All other customers chose a variety of ways to pay (e.g. cheque, pay point, online, credit/debit cards) and we will need to ensure that our database is updated where customers’ addresses or other details have changed so that they can be refunded quickly and easily.”

Irish Water is now setting up a refunds system with its staff and it also expects to contact customers shortly about the refunds and how the money will be returned.

It is estimated that some households will be entitled to refunds amounting to over €300, if they paid the five quarterly payments when the charging regime was in place.

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