Opposition blamed for water refund delays

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has blamed left-wing parties and Independents for “holding up” water charges refunds to people due to their refusal to sign off on legislation before the Oireachtas.

Mr Varadkar made the claim as opposition parties criticised the Government for admitting the refunds are unlikely to be sent out until after Christmas.

Under plans announced by Mr Varadkar and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, it had been intended that people who paid their water charges would have the money returned to them by the end of the year.

The move was on condition the Water Services Bill would be passed by the Dáil and Seanad by mid-October. It would officially scrap general charges but see new “excessive usage” fees implemented in limited circumstances from 2018.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland programme yesterday, Yvonne Harris, the head of Irish Water’s customer strategy and capacity unit, said it is ready to “start producing 30,000 cheques per night”.

She said there are “constraints”, noting the most important issue remains that the legislation allowing this move to take place has yet to be passed.

Speaking in the US, Mr Varadkar said he still wants to see the refunds take place “as soon as possible”.

He said opposition parties are to blame for the delay. “I always said refunds are contingent on legislation passing through the Dáil and Seanad, in which we don’t have a majority.

“I really would call on Sinn Féin and some left-wing parties and Independents to change their mind and support it. Get it through right away. They are holding up the refunds.”

The comment came as Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said the decision to publish the legislation on September 20 meant “it was highly unlikely this refund timeline would be met”.

He said: “This is a piece of complex legislation that does not solely deal with the issue of refunds. This bill also addresses issues such as medical waivers, and the charging regime for so-called excess use.

“Given this Government’s past history with rushing through water and planning legislation it is important that sufficient time is allocated for the necessary scrutiny of the bill,” said Mr Ó Broin, not, he added, at “warp speed”.

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