Charges dead in the water as Coveney to start issuing refunds
Water charges are dead and Housing Minister Simon Coveney must begin work on issuing refunds to almost one million law-abiding households.
After 10 days of frantic negotiations, Fianna Fail performed yet another U-turn on its policy to finally vote through a report on the future funding of domestic water services.
However, its water spokesman Barry Cowen denied capitulating to Mr Coveney, arguing that the party had finally ensured the "failed regime is gone".
Mr Coveney will now begin work on legislation that will see around 70,000 a year hit with levies for "excessive" usage of water. Every person will be allowed to use 226 litres of water per day before risking prosecution. And builders will be required to install meters in all newly-built homes.
Fianna Fail had objected to the word "excessive" and the further rollout of meters, but backtracked following fresh legal advice provided to the Oireachtas water committee.
Asked if he accepted Mr Coveney had won the battle, Mr Cowen replied: "I don't care about whether it's 2-nil, 3-nil, 5-nil or 10-nil or 1-1 or whatever it might be. When the spin fades away, the facts will remain that there are no changes and Fianna Fail has honoured its commitments."
He said 10 days had been wasted on foot of Fine Gael game-playing, which he suggested was the result of the leadership battle between Mr Coveney and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.
"Maybe you can ask Mr Varadkar if he's happy now because it's the same deal that was there 10 days ago," he said.
Mr Cowen said if he expected others to abide by the legal advice then he would have to do so himself.
"Charges are gone, they are not coming back," he said, adding that if households "wilfully abuse water I have no problem with them being fined".
However, Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, who has led the anti-water charges movement, last night urged people to start digging up water meters.
He noted that only houses with meters will be liable for excessive usage charges.
"So if people are out there and they currently have water meters that they don't want to have, I'd suggest that if they get rid of those water meters then they can't be faced with any charge whatsoever," he said.
Mr Murphy said general charges were gone, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fail had done a "backroom dodgy deal".
As tensions rose yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told Mary Lou McDonald not to come into the Dail "exuding righteousness" on charges.
Mr Kenny claimed Sinn Fein's view on paying for water was "sabotaged" by the by-election victory of Mr Murphy in November 2014.
"Then the sound of marching feet in Tallaght changed your view," he said.
The Fine Gael leader was responding to an attack from Ms McDonald, who said the "bully boys" of Government were trying to sabotage the work of the committee set up to decide on the future funding of domestic water services.
"You are now trying to bully your friends in Fianna Fail into a U-turn," Ms McDonald said, in reference to the fact that new legal advice appears to have persuaded Micheal Martin's party to accept significant changes to the committee's final report.
"The argument on water has been won on the streets by thousands of protesters, who marched at countless demonstrations.
"Your refusal to accept defeat on the issue of water represents a real crisis for democratic representation."