Independent Alliance TD John Halligan has denied Government colleagues ordered him to back out of plans to support an opposition motion scrapping water charges, despite performing a sudden U-turn last night.
The newly appointed junior jobs minister said he was not influenced in any way, after it emerged he held talks with Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Alliance TD Shane Ross just hours before the row-back occurred.
Moments after 39 Right2Water TDs consisting of Sinn Féin, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, People before Profit, and opposition Independents published a motion to scrap Irish Water — to be discussed tonight and tomorrow — Mr Halligan said he was strongly considering whether to support the plan.
The Waterford TD told Today FM: “I think I will be voting in favour of it [the motion] because I don’t think it’s [Irish Water] fit for purpose”.
Mr Halligan said this was possible, because, under the agreement with Fine Gael, Independent Alliance TDs “have to have a vote of conscience and, in conscience, I don’t agree with Irish Water”.
However, just hours later the junior jobs minister — who has faced criticism over whether he should take up the role, as he is not paying water charges — said he will now support the Fine Gael-led Government position.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Halligan said this was because “I’ve already said I will support the programme for government” and he insisted his change of mind “is not a climbdown”, as water charges “will be abolished”.
He said he held a meeting with fellow Independent Alliance TD Shane Ross — who could not be contacted last night — after the motion was published, but stressed his colleague did not tell him to back out of plans.
“Nobody tells me what to do,” he said.
Mr Halligan’s change of view — which also followed a phonecall from Mr Coveney — means the new Government, which has just one seat more than needed under its minority deal with Fianna Fáil, has avoided a third threat to its stability just three weeks after forming.
However, despite the avoidance of another high-profile clash, Labour leader Brendan Howlin yesterday said the new coalition is “intrinsically unstable” and that “any significant issue” will “knock it over”.
The Right2Water TDs’ motion will be put before the Dáil tonight before it is voted on tomorrow. It calls for Government to “immediately abolish” the fees and set a date for a referendum preventing future water privatisation.
Fine Gael will put down a counter motion supporting the existing plan to allow an independent commission to review water charges, while Fianna Fáil last night put down a similar but separate counter motion to avoid being seen to vote with Government.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin and Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy yesterday denied the Right2Water motion — which cannot be passed without Fianna Fáil’s support — was focussed on causing divisions within Government rather than scrapping charges.
Mr Murphy told reporters: “It’s a sign of how cynical politics is that this is seen as a manoeuvre.”
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