First cracks in new government appear with disagreements over water charges and health

The first cracks in the newly formed minority government arrangement have appeared just three days after it was formed due to disagreements on water charges, health, and variable mortgage reforms.

The issues became apparent yesterday as Fine Gael and two Independents crucial to Enda Kenny returning to power clashed over water charge payments, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil separately pushed for policy control of their support arrangement.

Just three days after the Government was finally formed with one seat more than needed last Friday, Fine Gael’s new chief whip Regina Doherty took to the airwaves to warn Independents their water bills will not just “magically disappear”.

Responding to reports new Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath and the set to be appointed junior minister John Halligan are refusing to pay the controversial fees, she told RTE Radio the money must be handed over.

Finian McGrath
Finian McGrath

“This isn’t just unique to people in Leinster House who possibly haven’t paid their water bills yet,” she said.

“It is the law, and if and when we pass a new piece of legislation to suspend the law, it doesn’t diminish the fact that it is the law and those outstanding bills need to be paid. The bills are not going to magically disappear and I would advise people whether they’re elected or not elected to pay.”

The view followed an earlier disagreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the possibility of variable mortgage reforms.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said his party is planning to put legislation to the Dáil at the earliest opportunity to force banks to help people with the deals.

The Cork South Central TD said the move, first reported by the Irish Examiner last week, is allowed for under the minority government arrangement. However, when pressed he accepted there is as yet no clear guarantee the bill will be backed by Fine Gael — a move that is key to ensuring it is passed into law.

A third issue also emerged yesterday over the new Government’s plan to potentially privatise some under-performing sections of the health service, dismantle the HSE, and set up a new cross-party committee to decide on agreed health policies for the next decade.

Fine Gael has insisted the moves are necessary to tackle long-term problems in the health system.

However, in a statement, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher warned the HSE should not be scrapped and replaced with a “fragmented health service”.

Billy Kelleher
Billy Kelleher

“We believe the HSE should be improved, not broken up. The development and sustaining of integrated services on a national and regional basis needs a national structure,” he said.

The difficulties mark the first hurdles for the Government just days after it was formed, and are expected to come into increased focus next week when the Dáil returns as parties not involved in the minority government arrangement seek to split the divergent groups.

Meanwhile, the widely leaked Programme for Government — a detailed 160-page policy document drawn up between Fine Gael and Independent TDs last week — is likely to be formally published on Thursday.

The file’s formal release, which will be one of the first opportunities for the new Government to show public solidarity with each other on key policy matters, will be followed by the expected appointment of junior ministers next week.

The appointments had been predicted to be made today before cabinet meets tomorrow.

However, it is understood the internal government changes mean officials are being given more time to clarify where each department’s responsibility begins and ends, resulting in a short delay in the appointments.


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