Parties divided over whether water fees should be refunded

There is division between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on whether the two thirds of households who have paid water charges should be entitled to refunds.

An Oireachtas Committee will begin examining the issue next week after an expert commission on water this week recommended most households get water for free while excessive use is charged.

But it remains unclear what will happen to the money collected from people who previously paid bills or whether those who did not pay charges will instead be pursued in the courts.

Fianna Fáil’s social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said both options remained on the table, ahead of the 20-member committee holding its first meeting next Tuesday about the expert report.

“There are two ways, you can go after the people who didn’t pay or you can recoup, you can recompense the people who did pay. There are pluses and minuses to both courses of action.”

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said this week that there would be no refunds for those who had paid their bills, up until charges were frozen last July. Almost €144m was paid in bills last year.

However, he insisted that bills that had not been paid must still be recouped.

The expert commission has recommended that most homes will not pay charges and instead have their costs subsidised by the exchequer. But it says waste or excessive use should be charged.

Senior Fianna Fáil figures yesterday strenuously denied reports of formally discussing a ‘super tax’, which would see water charges and property tax amalgamated.

Limerick TD Willie O’Dea told RTÉ the suggestion his party had considered joining the two charges together was “absolute rubbish”. “You can safely dismiss that,” he said.

“If there was any serious suggestion of that within Fianna Fáil, I would have known about it.” Other party figures said the idea, which would the charges joined into one after 2019, said the issue may have been discussed informally, but never at a front bench meeting.

“We have stopped those charges and you can rest assured they will remain stopped,” added Mr O’Dea.

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said fresh protests against charges were being planned for the new year. His group, Sinn Féin, and others believe proposals for a ‘wastage’ water cost would see charges reintroduced by the back door. An excess charge was “in reality a Trojan horse for the re-introduction of charges”, he said.

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