Former Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, was sharply opposed to the idea of putting water meters outside every home in the State but was overruled by then-Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, a new book reveals.
The book, 'In Deep Water – How People, Politics and Protests sank Irish Water' by political journalist, Michael Brennan, details how then-Environment Minister, Phil Hogan, drafted a cabinet memo for a €450 million plan to put water meters in more than one million households, but had still to win Mr Noonan over.
The book notes that Mr Noonan warned in late 2014, at the height of the anti-austerity backlash, that the water charges issue risked the Government not winning a second term.
“At one meeting of the Economic Management Council (the four-man mini Cabinet group made up of Michael Noonan, Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and Brendan Howlin) Mr Noonan made a dramatic intervention. He told the ministers and advisers that the government had come into office with the biggest majority ever.
"It had got out of the bailout and started to fix the unemployment problem, so it should be able to get a second term. But Mr Noonan warned that water charges were getting in the way of that and that the government should no longer go ahead with them,” the book reveals.
“His change of heart came as a complete shock to advisor Andrew McDowell – the man who had invented the concept of Irish Water – and to Mark Kennelly, Enda Kenny’s chief of staff. ‘Their jaws dropped,’ said a government source.
Mr Noonan had now just adopted the same position as the government secretary-general, Martin Frasier, who was also in the room. Another senior civil servant John Callinan, later to play a key role in the Brexit negotiations, was listening too.
"Fraser and Callinan realised it was significant," said the government source. It was not a comfortable position for Fine Gael to be out of step with the views of Fraser, their most senior civil servant.The book reveals that Mr Kenny kept listening without giving away his own position.
“But Andrew McDowell was not going to give up the Irish Water project that he had devised five years later. He believed that if the government caved on this issue, it would have to cave on everything else,” the book states.
Labour suspected that Mr McDowell was going to get Mr Noonan back in line with the official Fine Gael position on water charges. Sure enough, when the EMC met again a week later, Mr Noonan’s tune had changed. He did not repeat his call for water charges to be suspended.
“Fine Gael did a full pushback job on Noonan. They got to him,” said a Labour adviser.