Fine Gael willing to agree to suspension of water charges to reach Fianna Fáil deal

Fine Gael are prepared to suspend water charges for up to two years as long as there is a solid agreement with Fianna Fáil that a charging regime is then reintroduced.

Fianna Fáil, though, want the future of the water services system assessed by a special commission and say they would not pre-empt its findings by agreeing to reintroduce charges.

These are positions being examined by both sides as talks are scheduled to resume today in an effort to break the deadlock which saw government formation negotiations again break up on Friday over water charges.

Acting taoiseach Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin maintained contact over the weekend and also spoke by phone yesterday, in a bid to put the talks back on track.

Fine Gael sources yesterday revealed that, while Fianna Fáil’s full five-year suspension of charges is not acceptable, a shorter period may be once there is also a clear deal to reintroduce a charging system. Such a pact may end the stalemate, but would also require Fianna Fáil to agree to when charges could be reintroduced.

A senior Fine Gael source said: “We can live with suspension for one or two years, but we need absolute agreement for a charging system then. They’re not willing to do that. It’s all very well to freeze them, the dilemma is what to do next and how it comes back in.”

Pressed by RTÉ’s This Week yesterday on whether Fine Gael would agree to a shorter period than five years to suspend charges, acting jobs minister Richard Bruton also said: “There are solutions that can be found if there is room for compromise on both sides. If it’s a situation where it’s an all or nothing, of course there’s middle ground that can be negotiated across the charging regime.”

Both sides are considering proposals for a special commission to examine the future of water charges. The commission could include water conservationists, economists, and foreign experts and would report to an Oireachtas Committee.

Talks today will look at how a commission would examine funding models and water services in general.

While Fianna Fáil sources say this would allow time for water services infrastructure to be completed, such as the meter installation programme, the party say no agreement could be made on reintroducing charges as this would pre-empt the commission’s recommendations.

While Mr Martin said his party hoped to “bring about a resolution early next week”, both sides last night played down the likelihood of a Dáil vote for Taoiseach being held this week. But amid warnings of another general election looming, Gerry Adams said Sinn Féin were open to government formation negotiations.

Environment minister Alan Kelly said last night scrapping Irish Water would be the “most ridiculous decision” and “economic and environmental sabotage”.

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