Finance Minister Micheal Noonan has refused to lift the threat of setting Revenue Commissioners onto people taking part in a proposed mass boycott of water charges.
Mr Noonan left open the prospect of drafting in the tax authority despite conceding that its powers had never been used in such a way before.
“All options are being looked at. The Revenue have never in the past acted to collect outstanding debts. They are responsible for raising revenue,” Mr Noonan told the Dáil in response to Fianna Fáil concerns about the role of the commissioners in any move to try and head-off non-payment of the levy.
Labour TD and Environment Minister Alan Kelly said getting Revenue to chase families for water payments would not represent the “right avenue”.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath demanded the Government come clean on any envisaged role for Revenue in collecting the payments.
This would be highly unusual as the water payments are service charges and not taxes.
Mr Noonan sidestepped the issue, insisting that the Government would clarify the whole process of water charging in the next two weeks.
He said the final charges would be “affordable by the generality of households”.
Mr McGrath warned against using the Revenue to go after water payments. “It seems to me the way Irish Water has been set up as a commercial state company, it is not open to the Revenue Commissioners to act as a commercial debt collection agent for a commercial state company.”
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams insisted that Taoiseach Enda Kenny should tell the EU to “bugger off” over the Brussels rules regarding the capitalisation of the utility.
“The Taoiseach should tell the EU to bugger off on this and on many other issues, that water is a human right,” Mr Adams told RTÉ.
The Sinn Féin leader, who admitted he could not explain the EU’s financial mechanism regarding how the utility would be kept off the State’s books, defended his U-turn on not paying water charges by insisting he was entitled to change his mind.
Mr Kenny said the creation of Irish Water was needed in order to modernise the country’s supply system.
He dismissed calls from Independent TD Mick Wallace to scrap the utility, saying EU rules meant that separating modernisation out from public funds was needed in order to maximise results.
Mr Kenny refused to be drawn on Tánaiste Joan Burton’s prediction that a family of four adults would pay less than €200 a year for water, but said he agreed with her desire to keep charges “affordable”.
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