Warning of backdated €20k a day fine if water charges scrapped

Fine Gael members have been warned that Ireland would be hit with a daily €20,000 fine, backdated to 2009, if water charges are scrapped.

Senator Paudie Coffey, who is a member of the water committee, told party members that Ireland would be fined more than €50m by the European Commission if they do not implement water charges.

He said that the arguments in favour of scrapping water charges put forward by Fianna Fáil in recent days were legally “questionable” and told his fellow Fine Gael members that the commission had already given Ireland a grace period to introduce these charges.

He said said that it was always going to be difficult toward the end of negotiations around the future of water.

It was agreed that space be given to the Fine Gael team in the committee to continue to negotiate the issues.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney also reiterated his stance that he will not legislate on something that is illegal.

There was laughter when Mr Coffey suggested that he had got to know members of the committee “intimately” during their work on the future of water charges.

Separately measures to free up vacant properties around the country were raised during the meeting.

Fergus O’Dowd told the meeting that there are currently 4,491 vacant homes in Cork City, with only 52 of these holiday homes.

He said Ireland’s vacancy rates were extremely high when compared with those of the UK.

Mr O’Dowd told Fine Gael members that Cork currently has a vacancy rate of 8.1%, this compares to a vacancy rate of just 1.7% in London.

He suggested that homeowners who leave properties vacant for more than a year should be penalised with a levy.

This motion was supported by Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney said he was already looking into the high rates of vacant properties across the country and hoped to have a report back on the matter in the next six to eight weeks.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny singled out secretary Noel Rock and noted what a good job he was doing on the minute-taking of meetings. This again prompted some laughter.

It comes after the Dublin North-West TD faced criticism when he publicly suggested that it was time Mr Kenny stood down as Fine Gael leader.

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