Full refunds for Irish Water customers who have paid their bills would be given out by the end of the year under legislation being proposed by the Labour party.
The party will today outline a bill which would allow the Government sanction the refund of charges within six months, once bills are suspended.
Labour, as revealed by the Irish Examiner, is also working on separate legislative for a referendum to ensure all natural resources, including water, are kept in public ownership.
Potential Labour leader candidate Brendan Howlin said that his party still supported the idea of water charges. Water charges were finished, he conceded, but households should also be repaid. Labour believe in a “generous allowance” for users and anything over this must be paid for, he said.
The biggest mistake for Labour, he said, when in government was when the junior coalition partner did not get its way on the timescale for introducing Irish Water in 2014.
“We should have, even if it meant taking down the government at that stage, held our ground on that.”
Mr Howlin said it was now also “constitutionally unacceptable” that there was a member of government, Disability Minister Finian McGrath, who was not paying his water charges.
“He should pay them,” Mr Howlin told RTÉ.
Labour will now produce two pieces of legislation relating to water charges. The first, to be launched today,envisages Irish Water being forced to pay back all water bills within six months of a suspension. The Government expects the suspension, as agreed in exchange for Fianna Fáil’s support, to begin at the end of June. This means that the bill could provide for full refunds being paid by December.
The legislation, called the Water Charges Fair Treatment of Customers Bill, comes after confusion about if charges will be suspended and what happens to those who have already paid. Government chief whip Regina Doherty yesterday said the suspension could come into effect by the end of June.
The Labour bill also provides for the return of payments, even if charges are permanently abolished.
Labour are expected to propose that refunds be provided through banks or by cheques.
Meanwhile, further pressure continues to be applied on Mr McGrath to pay his water bill. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald added her voice to the argument yesterday, saying he should pay. Asked if Mr McGrath was fit to stay in Cabinet if he won’t, she said: “I’ve made it clear what I think about Finian’s bills. They [non-payers] need to pay those bills and that is certainly essential.”
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