Water charge group may miss March deadline for vote

There are concerns TDs and senators responsible for recommending the future of water charges to the Dáil for a vote will not finish their work by the March deadline.

Members of the committee on water services clashed behind closed doors yesterday over its work schedule.

There was disagreement over whether Right2Water, a campaign group that opposes water charges, should be invited to appear. There was also discussion about whether academic experts and EU legal experts should attend.

Under the Government support deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the committee is required to make recommendations to the Dáil for a vote to be held by the end of March. Water bills are frozen until then. Any delay may require agreement between the parties, a further freezing of bills, and possibly notice being given to the EU.

Committee members agreed, by a vote of 12-6, that Right2Water will appear on February 7. Fianna Fail and Labour members were among those who supported the proposal, pushed for by AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil members are concerned they cannot attend two hearings a week, as originally agreed. This could set back the workload of the committee.

Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon accused Fianna Fáil of trying to hold up the committee’s work.

“In voting with the hard left to invite an interest group, Right2Water, into the water committee, Fianna Fáil is effectively going to delay the work of the committee... we do not need interest groups wielding agendas, be it on the pro or anti water charges side of the debate, coming in to tell us what we already know their position to be.”

Mr Barry disagreed, saying he welcomed their involvement.

Meanwhile, the committee heard from the Public Water Forum which said it supported the idea of charging for water when more than the average amounts were used by a household.

Forum chairman Tom Collins questioned why people would not pay for water services but had consumed €250m worth of bottled water in 2014 — equating to 24 litres or €47 per person.

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