Fine Gael has rejected Fianna Fáil demands to defer all water charges until every house in the country is metered as the move would effectively hand Micheál Martin’s party victory in ongoing talks on Irish Water.
The move was put on the table by Fianna Fáil’s negotiating team as a way to move the talks forward after stalemate led to a crunch meeting between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Martin yesterday.
However, despite Fianna Fáil arguing the move would allow Fine Gael’s offer of waivers and allowances for vulnerable people once all homes are metered, it is understood that Fine Gael rejected the offer because it would mean the charges system would be frozen for a number of years — handing its rival victory.
The offer was put forward during a day which saw Mr Kenny and Mr Martin forced to hold face-to-face talks in Government Buildings in an attempt to resolve the ongoing differences between both parties’ negotiating teams.
While Fianna Fáil are pushing to freeze charges, Fine Gael want affordable bills to remain.
Both sides are also trying to agree a compromise on the type of company to oversee charges, with sources confirming last night the issue of a referendum on ensuring water remains in public ownership is also on the table in the talks.
The intervention by the two leaders came after talks on Tuesday night came to no agreement, with claims that heavily subsidised allowances for charges were being discussed.
Instead, Mr Kenny and Mr Martin held a “tense” and “inconclusive” meeting, before negotiating teams met again at the neutral venue of Trinity College Dublin last night.
Walking back in, both sides used diplomatic language — despite earlier suggestions of a fresh standoff over how to resolve differences over water charges.
Fianna Fáil negotiator and Cork South Central TD Michael McGrath said: “The art of any negotiation is compromise.”
Finance Minister Michael Noonan agreed, saying discussions are “down to about five or six net points” before adding: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
There were suggestions last night that Fianna Fáil is now pushing for an indefinite cessation of water charges. This is allow time to decide how to proceed next and whether Irish Water would be changed from a commercial utility into a full state agency.
It is also understood a series of allowances has been put on the table to cut water bills for users, particularly for elderly or disabled home owners.
Users may also be asked only to pay bills if they use an amount of water above a certain standard rate.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are also in negotiations about the future of the universal social charge.
Economic papers were due to be exchanged yesterday. A compromise is needed with Fine Gael pushing to abolish the levy while Fianna Fáil only want it phased out for those on salaries of up to €80,000.
The talks at Trinity concluded after less than two hours and will continue today, hours before Mr Kenny updates his parliamentary party about efforts to form a minority government and the talks with Fianna Fáil.
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