'No refunds for water charges but we'll chase unpaid bills', says Leo
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has ruled out refunding water charges to those who have paid, but he wants to see those who haven't settled up chased - even if it takes decades.
He has backed his Fine Gael leadership rival Simon Coveney's position that there should be no refunds for people who paid water charges.
Mr Varadkar said he does not believe the issue will be revolved that quickly, even suggesting a scheme that could take years to recoup unpaid charges.
"I think ideally we would like to resolve every pressing issue before the next election. I'm not sure if that's realistic," he said, noting that legislation will be needed to change the existing regime.
Mr Varadkar has proposed applying attachment orders to houses, which could see Irish Water collecting unpaid bills over years and even decades. "Certainly my own view is that they shouldn't be refunded," he said.
"There are other legally established charges or bills in the past, for example the household charge, management company fees, previous water charges and bin charges.
"All of those I've mentioned are outstanding debts against an individual or a property and they are ultimately recovered. There are still people even today who are selling on houses and are finding out that they have a bill that they have to discharge before they sell the house."
However, Transport Minister Shane Ross said he believes there is a "good case" for paying out refunds because it's "unlikely" that Irish Water will be able to collect the outstanding money.
"If people are going to be let off then I think there's a very good case for refunding those who have already paid the charges," he said.
Speaking in San Francisco, where he is on a trade mission, Taoiseach Enda Kenny repeatedly refused to rule out refunds, saying he wants to see what the Oireachtas committee on water proposes.
Mr Coveney has insisted that, since the publication of the Expert Commission on Water's report, Fine Gael's position is that everybody should pay their outstanding debt.
When asked directly if he agreed with his minister's line on refunds, Mr Kenny avoided the question.
"I don't want to commit to anything now until such time as the committee is allowed to do its work," he said.
He pointed out that Fine Gael's position during the negotiations to form a government was that there would be a national public utility for water, metering to determine usage and to find leaks, and a "fair and affordable charging regime".
Meanwhile, Junior Minister Sean Canney has said rural families who use their own well or a privately funded group water scheme must be treated equally with their urban counterparts.
"The current debate is unfortunately ignoring the hundreds of homes across Ireland who are connected to group water and waste water schemes," the Independent Alliance TD said.
"Group water schemes are run on a voluntary basis and provide water for thousands across the country."