Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to exchange views on water rates

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have finally opened talks on their differences relating to water charges as well as the universal social charge and are expected to formally exchange papers on the two areas today.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to exchange views on water rates

Negotiations will resume but no vote for Taoiseach is expected to be declared today as the two parties attempt to come to a deal on Fianna Fáil facilitating a Fine Gael minority government.

It is understood the two parties have already agreed a one-page document on how the mechanics of a minority government will work. This includes the potential for regular reviews.

Senior Fianna Fáil sources say they are happy with the talks so far. Fine Gael Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said water charges could be a stumbling block. He also said people needed to be patient. Negotiation teams with the two parties finally came around to discussing water charges and Irish Water yesterday evening. However, it is believed that no formal deal has been agreed. While Fine Gael are pushing to retain charges, Fianna Fáil wants them frozen for a period and Irish Water scrapped.

The two teams discussed the economy and their own policy differences. This included the universal social charge and what its future may be. Fine Gael wants to phase out the USC while Fianna Fáil wants it reduced but retained in order to fund services. The Irish Examiner understands that papers on these two areas may be exchanged today, when talks resume. Fine Gael has already said changes on the USC will go to a Dáil committee where alternatives could be agreed.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that there was unlikely to be a further vote to elect a Taoiseach today. Instead, the Dáil will hear discussions on health, insurance costs and a Dáil housing committee will also meet for the first time.

Labour will host its parliamentary party meeting today, where the matter of supporting a minority government is expected to be debated. No party meetings, as of last night, had been scheduled for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The talks on water charges in the government formation talks come as the utility faces increasing pressure to immediately publish its latest figures on how many people are still paying water charges.

The latest quarterly figures from the group — for January, February, and March and how many people have cancelled bills since the election — are due out in the coming days under strict rules for utility.

However, opposition concern is growing that the politicised payment rates are being delayed due to the highly sensitive government negotiations taking place.

Under existing rules, Irish Water must publish the records 21 days after the end of the billing period — a three-week delay designed to double check figures — meaning the details may be made public this week.

However, it is understood the utility is considering delaying the release of details for an unknown period. It is claimed this is because some people may not have received their bills before the end of March as they may have moved home in the period, meaning the 21-day period which ends tomorrow will be delayed.

Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy and Sinn Féin’s TD Eoin Ó Broin have called for the information to be published immediately.

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