Party policy is to scrap Irish Water, transfer some workers to local authorities, and lay off surplus staff
A senior Fianna Fáil TD has confirmed the party will lay off some Irish Water workers if its plan to scrap the utility is introduced by the next government.
Transport spokesman Timmy Dooley said the situation will “of course” take place if Fianna Fáil is able to put its policy in place as part of any deal with Fine Gael.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One programme after another day in which the future of Irish Water and its controversial charges dominated the political debate, the Clare TD said the majority of staff would be moved to local authorities and a redundancy scheme would exist for others.
However, he said it is inevitable some workers “who will be surplus to requirements” will be laid off, which is expected to anger those working in the utility and unions which have previously called for clarity over their job security.
“I would expect that a redundancy plan would be put in place to facilitate that,” said Mr Dooley.
“There are some [staff] who would transfer back to the local authorities where much of this work would be carried out, there are some who will be surplus to requirements.”
Asked if that means people will be laid off, Mr Dooley added: “I think that follows, of course, where people are surplus to requirements.”
The comment was made during an interview in which Mr Dooley stressed Irish Water is not a “red-line” issue for him “because there’s a whole myriad of issues that are really important to us, the chaos in the health service and the crisis in housing amongst many”.
However, despite Mr Dooley’s attempt to downplay the significance of the stand-off between the two main parties over the utility’s future, other politicians yesterday admitted the issue remains a cause of concern as negotiations loom.
Speaking earlier in the day, outgoing Fine Gael children’s minister James Reilly said any move to freeze charges “will be a major problem”.
He added that “it will be very difficult” to form a government that lasts unless there is a strong coalition based on agreed policies between Ireland’s two biggest parties.
Fianna Fáil environment spokesman and member of the party’s negotiating team Barry Cowen said his party remains “committed” to abolishing Irish Water.
Meanwhile, at a separate media briefing in Leinster House yesterday, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he will not accept the outcome of his own party’s independent commission on Irish Water unless it rules in favour of scrapping charges.
Asked how the party would respond if the commission found in favour of retaining water charges, Mr Adams said “they cannot do that” as the terms of reference would be so tight it would only allow one conclusion to be drawn, before comparing any such investigation to home renovation.
“If you want to convert my kitchen, you give me the terms of reference, you tell me the type of kitchen I want, you tell me the price I want [and] so on and so forth and I am obliged to handle that, you don’t go and make my kitchen into a dining room,” he said.
Mr Adams also declined to say whether the party would support a Fianna Fáil bill to suspend water charges and scrap Irish Water.
Fiachra Ó Cionnaith - Political Reporter
Option 1: Keeping Irish Water and the charges system, but reducing costs for vulnerable groups.
Consequence: This approach — which has been hinted at for a number of weeks as a way to build bridges between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil — will help those most in need, particularly the elderly. However, economic think-tank the Nevin Institute recently noted that it could cause charges for everyone else to rise to €350.
Option 2: Scrapping Irish Water and charges completely.
Consequence: Such a policy would be a popular measure for the new government to introduce, and could help gain some badly needed public support.
However, a complete removal would lead to European Union court action and the threat of significant fines, with further questions over how to pay for water infrastructure improvements — something that crucially could also lose public support.
Option 3: Delaying charges for a number of years.
Consequence: Fianna Fáil is seeking to do this for half a decade as part of draft legislation Micheál Martin’s party is currently in the process of drawing up, while EU sources have also confirmed officials in Brussels may allow it to happen as it technically does not breach the law. However, the move would still leave the question of how to fund water service improvements while the charges are deferred.
Option 4: Cutting a deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Consequence: It has recently been suggested that Fine Gael will scrap its long-stated plans to completely remove the universal social charge if Fianna Fáil parks its equally long-stated Irish Water policy, but any deal depends on both parties convincing supporters they have won and are getting the best deal.
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