Fine Gael councillors seek water rethink

Fine Gael is facing a new crisis after several of its councillors in Donegal last night supported a motion to scrap water charges.

Councillors also voted in favour of holding a referendum on water ownership. The Fine Gael whip on Donegal County Council, Cllr Barry O’Neill, said the water charges were “a step too far”.

Speaking ahead of the vote, he said: “[It’s] basically calling on the Government to abolish water charges because I believe at this time that people have given enough. I’ve made these feelings known in recent weeks at Fine Gael meetings.”

All councillors backed the motion except for Fine Gael council leader Cllr Bernard McGuinness who abstained.

The other five Fine Gael councillors who backed the motion could face party disciplinary procedures for going against party policy.

Party headquarters said it was looking at the circumstances of the vote last night and no decision had been taken. Cllr Jimmy Kavanagh said: “I did this very reluctantly. But my supporters are behind me.”

The vote comes as the Government prepares to announce a water charge reform package next week. It is understood a two-tier charging scheme will be announced by Environment Minister Alan Kelly in the Dáil on Wednesday.

This is expected to see a home with two or more adults pay under €200 once the new supplement payments from the Government are included in bills. The Cabinet will sign off on the new charging regime measures on Tuesday, once they are finalised.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has already said it is her preference that homes pay a fixed charge until 2018, under changes being considered. Government chief whip Paul Kehoe yesterday confirmed debate on the water charge changes would take place next week and this would include a motion on those measures.

Elsewhere, landlords said Irish Water has told them it may seek tenants’ details who do not sign up to the charging regime. The Irish Property Owners Association said the company had told it that landlords had no responsibility for water charges and that occupiers would have to pay.

The association’s Margaret McCormick also told RTÉ: “Irish Water will have to request the details [from us] and they’ve told us they are not requesting them but that may change in the future. We’ve been told under data protection the name [of a tenant] can be given.”

Irish Water said this new measure to get tenants’ names from landlords had been agreed with the Data Protection Commissioner.


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