President asked to sign water charges law to allow refunds by Christmas

The Government has asked President Michael D Higgins to quickly sign off on new water charges legislation so that refunds can be issued to households before Christmas.

While legislation to scrap the current regime and introduce an excess charge is going through the Dáil, the Government yesterday agreed to ask the president for an early signature on the Water Services Bill.

A spokesman said it was still hoped that refunds would be issued before Christmas, as previously promised by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. This will mean refunds of more than €173m going to about 990,000 householders. Payments of over €300 could be received by some households.

New legislation has also been agreed, which will see car owners who allow learner drivers to use their vehicles unaccompanied facing prosecution for the first time.

Gardaí will also be allowed to seize cars where learner drivers are unaccompanied. The measures are part of new road traffic legislation coming before the Dail.

The changes comes in the wake of the case of Cork man Noel Clancy, who lost his wife and daughter in a crash that was caused by an unaccompanied driver.

The changes come as Transport Minister Shane Ross brings through strict changes to drink driving rules, which will see an automatic driving ban for first-time offenders.

The Cabinet yesterday also agreed to appoint Tony Murphy to replace Kevin Cardiff as Ireland’s member of the European Court of Auditors. The role commands a salary of over €200,000. The Government said Mr Murphy had more than 30 years of experience in auditing at national level in the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, in the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors.

A number of appointments to the higher courts were also agreed, including Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan to the Supreme Court, Justice Paul Gilligan to the Court of Appeal, and Michael MacGrath SC to the High Court.

Meanwhile, the Government also approved legislation to help allow institutes of technology to merge in order to become universities. The legislation will help set terms for staff, as well as the inclusion of an investigator for a third-level institution. The progression of the Technological Universities Bill was brought by Third-Level Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

Across the country, there are 10 institutes of technology involved in the process to create technological universities. These include Dublin Institute of Technology, Waterford Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Carlow, and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

A Cabinet discussion on controversial changes to local-election boundaries was postponed. This comes after concern from smaller parties and independents that local areas may be shrunk, a move it is alleged could benefit larger parties, such as Fine Gael.

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