Labour critical of Fine Gael on water charges

Phil Hogan’s handling of Irish Water has been strongly criticised by a Labour minister who attacked the former Fine Gael minister for “threatening people” over the charges.

Labour critical of Fine Gael on water charges

Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the situation had improved considerably since Labour took over the Environment Department from its coalition partner last summer.

Mr Ó Ríordáin listed a raft of mistakes he said were made by Mr Hogan regarding Irish Water before Taoiseach Enda Kenny made him a European commissioner.

“It’s not an unfair thing to say that Phil Hogan could probably have done a better job. I don’t think threatening people with poor water pressure was the way to go. That didn’t help.

“The idea of €500 water bills — that didn’t help. The idea of PPS numbers being asked for and no adequate reason being given as to why they were being asked for — that didn’t help,” Mr Ó Ríordáin told the Irish Examiner.

As environment minister, Mr Hogan drew widespread criticism when he threatened to turn the water supply down to non-paying households to a “trickle” as punishment for shunning the charge.

The Coalition withdrew the threat when Labour’s Alan Kelly replaced Mr Hogan as environment minister. Mr Kelly also brought payments levels down and scrapped the need to provide PPS numbers.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said that “greater responsibility” is being taken for Irish Water since Labour took over the controlling department.

“I think there’s a better handle on it now, and there’s greater responsibility being taken for it. A lot of those issues have now been dealt with and I think Alan Kelly deserves credit for that,” Mr Ó Ríordáin said.

Simmering tensions between the two parties over how to handle Irish Water in the run-up to the looming general election surfaced again over whether the €100 “conservation grant” — dubbed a “voter bribe” by the opposition — should be given to people who registered with the utility but who refused to pay bills.

Mr Ó Ríordáin was involved in a “blame game” storm which erupted in the Coalition earlier this year when he said Fine Gael was responsible for all the Government’s mistakes in the previous 12 months.

“People are frustrated with the Government and we have had a very bad year, none of it, I would say, caused by Labour ministers,” Mr Ó Ríordáin told the Irish Examiner.

He said Labour had to try and “keep things afloat” because Fine Gael ministers had not done a good enough job.

Asked if he thought Fine Gael had let the side down, he said: “This year, yes I do. A lot of the problems we have had from the beginning of the year have emanated from ministers who should have done better.”

The Hogan remarks follow those of Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe, who said people would be waiting a long time for any apology from Mr Hogan.

Mr Hogan provoked political outrage in January last year when it was revealed Irish Water had spent €50m state money on consultants, and he said: “I don’t micro-manage. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Alan Kelly has warned that those trying to avoid paying their water bills will have to pay more in the long run.

He said there was no escape and legislation being brought forward by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will ensure people have to pay up.

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