Flood of confusion around €170m water refund plans

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s plan to refund €170m in water charges has been undermined by confusion among ministers as to how and when it will happen.

Despite Mr Varadkar’s desire that refunds be paid by the end of the year, it emerged last night that not everybody who has paid will be refunded by January 1.

Several ministers, speaking to the Irish Examiner, also sharply contradicted Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, who said on RTÉ Radio that the matter had not come up at Cabinet.

“I haven’t been fully briefed on it, and we haven’t had a cabinet meeting to discuss it,” she said.

However, the Taoiseach and other ministers told a different story last night.

Mr Varadkar said clearly that the issue of refunding domestic water charges was discussed by Cabinet.

“She is wrong, maybe she misspoke or was mistaken, but we did discuss water at Cabinet,” said one minister.

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s department said last night that while it was the intention to pay as many refunds by the end of year as possible, some will have to wait longer.

“There will be a small amount of cases where that won’t be possible, say where people are deceased or has moved homes, that will take a little longer to iron out,” said a spokesman.

However, questions remain over how the refunds will be paid for. The Government has signalled the €170m would be resourced from existing funds or savings made this year. However, they have yet to be identified. Mr Varadkar also said the Government must decide if it will deduct the €100 conservation grant from refunds, but said it would be “logistically and legally very difficult”.

Also, Transport Minister Shane Ross said he is unwilling to offer up any savings in his department to pay for the refunds, as had been suggested by the Taoiseach.

“I’m certainly not going to be offering anything immediately at the moment to anybody for that,” he said.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael Mc-Grath questioned the apparent contradictory statements from Mr Varadkar and Ms Doherty on the issue of the refund of water charges.

“The Taoiseach must outline at which Cabinet meeting was the issue of refunds discussed, and why wasn’t Minister Doherty aware of this discussion,” he said.

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