Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has insisted no refunds will be given to people who have paid their Irish Water bills — despite telling his party its deal with Fine Gael means charges will never return.
He outlined the situation during a lengthy Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting last night, which was dominated by the imminent government formation agreement.
Speaking to TDs and senators at the meeting in Leinster House, Mr Martin rejected criticism from backbenchers Shane Cassell and John McGuinness that refunds must be paid out to bill-payers in light of the lengthy suspension of water charges now on the cards.
It is believed both TDs strongly criticised the view that refunds of any sort cannot be provided, and that there is division within the party on the matter, with a number of rural TDs opposed to any refund.
Repeating comments made during a Dáil debate earlier in the day, when he warned that “what is owed must be paid”, Mr Martin told his party previous bills are legal charges and cannot be avoided or refunded.
He later told the parliamentary party meeting that the deal with Fine Gael means even after a commission and Oireachtas committee conclude their work, any return of charges will only be allowed if the Dáil votes in favour of their commencement.
This is highly unlikely to happen and will place renewed pressure on Fianna Fáil to push for refunds.
In addition, Mr Martin restated his party’s election manifesto position that it would chase down people who have not paid their bills to date in order to ensure the debt is resolved.
He is believed to have pointed to the fact legislation already exists to enable the State to remove the owed money from people’s welfare payments or private income, and that Fianna Fáil would support Fine Gael in this position while charges remain suspended.
Mr Martin also confirmed to colleagues that the deal with Fine Gael will last for an initial two to three years, at which point a review will be in place with the possibility that the minority government may still serve a full five-year term.
While Fianna Fáil will be unable to vote against any budget legislation as part of the agreement, it will be able to vote against the government on other matters and can still put down motions of no confidence against ministers if the need arises.
It is understood backbench TD Thomas Byrne told the two-and-a-half-hour meeting that Dáil reform measures encouraged by Fianna Fáil mean it will now be able to “push around” Fine Gael in Oireachtas committees and that members should use the opportunity to ensure its policies are introduced despite being in opposition.
The party was told its negotiators will insist in talks with Fine Gael today that the agreement “cannot be unpicked” by Independents, who are expected to trawl over the finer details this weekend.
One TD is believed to have raised concerns that suspending water charges will mean significant extra costs will now be placed on other exchequer areas.
It is understood this TD said the €500m fiscal space claimed by the existing government will now be reduced to around €100m-200m and that, in effect, the State may have to cut back on services in health and other areas.
The majority of TDs said they believe the deal has been a success for Fianna Fáil. However, some said the creation of a commission and Oireachtas committee means water will remain a key electoral battleground.
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