Leo Varadkar confident Government will survive any water charges debate

Government and opposition TDs will not be bound by a soon-to-be-released special commission report on the future of water charges, said Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

He also said he believes the minority government, supported by Fianna Fáil, will survive the expected debate when the contentious issue of water charges comes up for discussion again.

However, already a row has broken out over who will be chairing a special Oireachtas committee, which is to consider the water commission report when it is released next week.

Opposition TDs said it was unprecedented that Housing Minister Simon Coveney had decided Independent senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh will head up the committee, which will make proposals to the Oireachtas on the future of charges.

It was expected that the Dáil would decide the committee make-up this week.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin said the whole process was now a “charade”.

Eoin Ó Broin
Eoin Ó Broin

However, Mr Varadkar said the outcome of the water commission report would not necessarily determine what TDs and senators decide on the committee.

Asked yesterday if he thought the Government would survive any looming row over charges, he said: “Yes, water is a difficult issue politically. I’ve no doubt that people will question whether we get through debates on water. I’m confident that we should and will.”

He reiterated his position on water charges, saying such bills were justifiable for reasons of conservation and were the fairest way to pay.

However, the minister acknowledged the Oireachtas committee examining water charges — to be finalised this week — would not be bound by the Kevin Duffy special commission report.

Weekend reports suggested the commission may recommend that some form of water charge should be retained, in order that Ireland meets obligations under EU directives. This charge though would be expected to be modest and households, particularly families, would receive generous allowances to offset costs. This would allow Ireland meet its EU requirements.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil has admitted it may be open to the possibility of water charges in the future — but only after services and water infrastructure are fixed to a certain level.

Housing spokesman Barry Cowen told RTÉ’s Drivetime “it’s not ‘no, never’ ” but that the party’s acceptance of charges could be 10 to 15 years away, depending on when Ireland reached European standards.

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