Fianna Fáil TDs say they 'cannot budge an inch on the issue of water charges'

Latest: Fianna Fáil TDs have hardened in their stance on Irish water, insisting the utility be abolished and water charges suspended, writes Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner.

Fianna Fáil TDs say they 'cannot budge an inch on the issue of water charges'

Update - 4.25pm: Fianna Fáil TDs have hardened in their stance on Irish water, insisting the utility be abolished and water charges suspended, writes Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner.

At a hastily convened meeting of the party today at Leinster House, TDs and senators voiced their opposition to any weakening in the party's stance on water charges, as articulated during the General Election campaign.

While the members were briefed on the state of talks with Fine Gael, there were given little by the way of specific details as to how a revised structure would work.

They said their manifesto must be their benchmark and several TDs, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said they were deeply unhappy with what is currently on the table.

“We feel if Fine Gael are the ones going into office, they have to give way more to us. What is the point in us compromising if we are in Opposition and getting nothing,” said one TD.

Several rural TDs said with some passion they had gone to the people arguing that Irish Water would be scrapped.

Galway TD Anne Rabbitte insisted the party remain steadfast to that commitment.

Earlier reports that a broad outline of a deal has been reached between the two sides were rejected by several Fianna Fáil TDs.

They said the party cannot budge an inch on the issue of charges being suspended.

It was reported that Irish Water will remain a national utility, although it will change from a commercial semi-state to a State agency.

It is known that Fine Gael wants a national utility to remain in place, while Fianna Fáil wanted Irish Water abolished in the election campaign.

Fianna Fáil’s election position was that it wanted water charges suspended for five years while Fine Gael maintains that paying for water in some form is fundamental to it as a party.

At the meeting, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told party members that he was satisfied to support Fine Gael from opposition. He said to do so was in the national interest.

But he was pressed about how this arrangement would work.

TDs raised questions about potential motions of confidence in government and Mr Martin told them they had no duty to support Ministers.

Newly elected Dublin South West TD John Lehart raised the issue of mental health funding, whereby Leo Varadkar insisted he was not raiding the mental health budget by the tune of €12m yesterday, only for the news to be confirmed today.

Mr Lehart and others said this calls into question whether Fine Gael can be trusted.

Renewed talks between negotiating teams from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil this afternoon are again likely to focus on the issue of Irish Water.

It is believed that the focus will be on trying to secure agreement on setting a more generous allowance for families before payment commences and also trying to overcome the hurdle of suspending charges.

Fine Gael TDs at their parliamentary meeting made clear they want some payment to be made.

“We cannot betray all those people who have paid their bills in good faith so far,” said one TD.

One Fine Gael advisor, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said the party is keen to have the meter made relevant again and want genuine conservation at the heart of the scheme.

Update - 3.40pm: Fianna Fáil TDs have again insisted that Irish Water must be abolished and water charges suspended.

Their parliamentary party was briefed this afternoon about a potential deal for government which would allow Fine Gael and independents form a minority administration

Negotiating teams from both parties have resumed discussions in Trinity College.

On the way to those talks Fianna Fáil negotiator Charlie McConalouge said he hoped they could reach an agreement quickly.

He said: "We had a constructive meeting, we briefed the Parliamentary Party on the talks so far and we will do so again further down the process.

"In the meantime, we will continue our work in a productive and constructive fashion, becauase we would like to see a minority government in place that is workable, stable and can work on the many issues in the country at the moment."

Fine Gael's Simon Coveney is hopeful that they will make headway on a number of issues including Irish Water.

He said: "I think we are making some progress that has to be finalised in some detail, we are not there yet, but I think we did make some progress yesterday.

"There are other issues as well, we will try and progress multiple issues today, not just water.

"Obviously there are lots of concerns that Irish people have, it's not just water but water is a big issue that needs to be finalised before we can get an agreement."

Update - 2.10pm: TDs from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil say they have had "positive" meetings about a potential deal for government.

Talks between negotiating teams are likely to resume in Trinity College later this afternoon.

A Fine Gael source said their TDs had been updated on progress, with a "positive" mood at the meeting.

A Fianna Fáil source said it was a "good meeting", but added that many TDs are seeking a "firm" stance on the future of Irish Water.

Update - 1.45pm: Independent TD Michael Collins says that there needs to be a referendum on the ownership of Irish Water.

Mr Collins said: "Irish Water is a company that shouldn't have been set up, I believe, it is a mistake made by the previous government and it is a mistake that they'll have to address going forward.

"We have to look at a referendum in relation to Irish Water, give the people their say.

"I can assure you, I know what they will say in relation to Irish Water."

Meanwhile, Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy-Rae, believes the electorate will not be going to the polls again in the immediate future.

He said: "If I was to bet right now, I would bet that there won't be an election. My other bet would be that the government won't be formed without 60 people supporting and buying into it.

"That'll be the figures, that's my humble opinion, but I think I'm right."

Update - 12.40pm: It now appears a deal between the two big parties will be done today or tomorrow, while sufficient numbers of Independents will be brought on board after some huffing and puffing.

But it is only then that the real work will begin on Irish Water - changing it from a commercial semi-state to a state company will not happen overnight, suspending charges and a new regime of allowances and waivers will also take time.

Also selling that deal to the public will be a tough task for the two big parties - it is not exactly what either of them promised, and opponents will say it is just a different system of the same thing - charges.

Sinn Féin says any deal that results in water charges being retained would be the "ultimate betrayal" of Irish voters.

Pearse Doherty says 99 TDs were elected on platforms to abolish water charges, including Fianna Fáil, but this will not be delivered.

Mr Doherty said: "What we see from the story this morning in relation to the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiations on a programme for government, and the little details that is in there, it is very clear that this is the ultimate betrayal of Irish citizens that voted in the General Election, who voted for the abolition of Irish Water and the abolition of domestic water charges."

"This deal is a major u-turn and climbdown from Fianna Fáil on water charges and shows they cannot be trusted to keep their election promises.

"They may be sitting on the opposition benches after this deal is sealed but they will be the architects of this programme for government and Sinn Féin will hold them to account for that.

Mr Doherty said, as a result, Micheál Martin's party "cannot present themselves as a progressive force".

He said: "The sad reality is that if Fianna Fáil were true to their word water charges could be abolished today. A majority in the Dáil were elected on anti-water charges tickets including Fianna Fáil TDs. However, they have since helped to block a motion from coming before the Dáil which calls for charges to be scrapped."

Earlier: The Independent Alliance could be moving closer to agreeing a coalition deal with Fine Gael.

TD John Halligan said he is nearing his demand of a 24-hour cardiac service in Waterford.

Independent Deputies are awaiting news of Fine Gael's deal with Fianna Fáil to allow a minority Government which may include a compromise on Irish Water, putting bills on hold ahead of new allowances.

But this morning John Halligan said he has agreed to an independent review that could see an ambulance service guaranteed.

“There will be what they call a ‘clinical review’,” he said.

“But the consultants in the hospital are absolutely confident that when this review is complete that it will show that the University Hospital fills all the criteria to have it designated as a 24-hour cardiac care unit.”

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