Minister admits delays to water bill refunds

The Dáil has passed legislation to end water charges and to provide for refunds, but many households will not be repaid before Christmas, as promised.

The Water Services Bill 2017 was voted through by 71 votes to 39 yesterday and, as a result, the bill will now be sent to the Seanad for debate and a vote.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said due to delays in dealing with the bill in the Dáil, it would not be possible to refund water charges to every household before the year end.

This was despite requesting the bill be signed early by President Michael D Higgins.

Mr Murphy said he did not believe the bill was a victory for ‘the people’, but it was for politicians who wanted to score points on the Government for their own gain.

However, the Dublin Bay South TD said he hoped the legislation would now settle matters for the coming years.

It appeared that, despite their victory, opposition TDs claimed the bill still allows for the reintroduction of water charges by the back door at some date in the future.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said the decision to introduce water charges was “a botched regime” that had been railroaded through the Dáil by Fine Gael and Labour.

He lashed out at a Sinn Féin amendment which proposed to change the name of the legislation from the Water Services Bill to the “Water Charges by the Back Door Bill”.

Limerick’s Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan said she would have liked a commitment from the Government that a referendum would be held to keep water services in public ownership.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said the Government had been forced to recognise reality and abolish water charges.

However, the TD said the introduction of an “excessive use charge” had the potential to see water charges reintroduced in the future.

“If you decide ever to go down that road we will be ready for you,” he said.

During the debate, Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy accused Sinn Féin of “playing politics” and deliberately delaying the passage of the legislation.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin denied his party was responsible for delays to the legislation.

Meanwhile, the Government accepted a Sinn Féin Private Members’ motion calling for a plan to ensure standards in the private rented sector.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin told the Dáil on Tuesday night that increasing the number of inspections to an adequate level would require additional resources from central Government.

“If some councils can achieve inspection levels of 25% annually, then all should be obliged to do so as a matter of urgency and resourcing should not be an obstacle,’’ he said.

Mr Ó Broin said an RTÉ’s Prime Time programme was shocking. Breaches of fire safety regulations, putting tenants lives in danger, was exposed, he said.

“It highlighted levels of overcrowding that many people assumed had vanished with the demolition of the tenements in the 1940s and 50s. It detailed the failure of landlords to respond to requests for essential maintenance and repairs.”

It had worst of all, he said, highlighted the State’s failure to enforce minimum standards and to protect tenants.

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