Mr Varadkar moved to dismiss fears over the issue before Fine Gael last night back-tracked in the Dáil by announcing plans for a State watchdog to oversee the changes to guard against unreasonable price hikes.
Responding to questions at Farmleigh House in Dublin during his meeting with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Mr Varadkar insisted “bin charges in Ireland are not new” and large sections of the population already use the pay-by-weight system.
However, asked specifically about the risk posed by a surge in prices from bin companies, he said the issue is unlikely to arise in the near future as the system change — which is due to begin in September — may take up to 15 months to fully implement.
“This is not going to happen overnight. For anyone on a contract, that still stands, so it will be at least a period of 15 months before the new charging system is put in place,” Mr Varadkar said.
“Bin charges in Ireland are not new, people have been paying for their bins to be collected for more than 10 years now.
“Markets do work and by incentivising people to recycle, to compost, to reuse, and to throw less away, we then reduce the demand on landfill and that’s what’s happening,” he said.
The comments came before Mr Varadkar unexpectedly announced to the Dáil that Fine Gael is willing to put in place an independent State watchdog to ensure prices do not surge unreasonably in response to the bin charges system change.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach said the move was now needed — after days of growing calls from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour for a regulator to be put in place or the charges changes to be scrapped.
The move was ratified during an incorporeal meeting of cabinet last night just an hour before a private members motion debate from Fianna Fáil on the issue in the hope from Fine Gael it would be enough to stave off another political crisis.
The meeting confirmed the proposed new watchdog will be led by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Department of Education and an external expert, and that it will include monthly price updates to protect against price gouging.
However, while Fianna Fáil said it would allow the watchdog to be introduced, its environment spokesperson Timmy Dooley stressed again last night that a full-scale regulator is still needed and that if this does not take place the watchdog will be little more than a “toothless poodle”.
Meanwhile, fellow Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers last night claimed that despite Fine Gael assurances no price gouging was likely and that it will take more than a year for the new system to be fully implemented, some bin companies are already warning people they will face fines of up to €25 for putting the wrong waste in bins.
Sinn Féin is continuing to call for the full scrapping of the pay-by-weight system change which was meant to be introduced last year before being delayed for 12 months, while Labour has called for any regulator to be controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Social Democrats yesterday said any new regulation system risks being ineffective as many of the bin companies involved base their accounts on the Isle of Man and as such their income levels cannot be adequately checked.