Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said people who paid water charges will have been “mugged” by the system unless the Government bows down to demands to provide refunds in a bid to resolve the standoff.
He made the remark as he criticised a government TD’s suggestion that monthly fines for people refusing to pay their charges should be considered instead of any “illogical” refunds process, saying there is “no legal basis” for such a move.
Speaking to reporters as he launched a Labour bill seeking a series of rent certainty and eviction protections, Mr Howlin said the Fine Gael-led coalition must give people who paid water charges back their money.
Addressing the issue alongside housing spokeswoman Jan O Sullivan, who is one of Labour’s representatives on the Dáil water committee tasked with finding a solution to the standoff, he said refunds are the only way the situation can be resolved.
“It is unconscionable for people who have paid their charges, who have complied with the law of the land, that they should be disadvantaged. It’s unacceptable, bluntly, that law abiding citizens should be mugged.
“Those who accepted the law paid for whatever reason and in whatever context, and they cannot be mugged by a system that falls in favour of those who don’t obey the law,” he said.
Asked why refunds should be considered instead of rolling €10 monthly fines for non-payers if water charges return next year — a position put forward by Fine Gael Cork South West TD and Dáil water committee member Jim Daly in yesterday’s Irish Examiner — Mr Howlin said there was “no legal basis” for the “fanciful” proposal.
Mr Daly said that the rolling fines were the best way to “focus minds” as any refunds would set a precedent for other bills including the TV licence, and that the fines would also ensure non-payers would soon meet the €500 debt threshold making them eligible for court appearances.
Questioned on whether he is simply supporting refunds now because he is in opposition and the issue is dividing the Government, Mr Howlin said that he would hold the same position if he was still public expenditure minister.
The 20-person cross-party Dáil water committee will formally meet for the first time next week and will be tasked with recommending whether water charges should return to the Dáil next March.
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