CONFUSION in Government over the water charge fiasco has intensified as senior government figures have cast doubt on Labour leader Joan Burton's assessment of an average family bill under the new regime.
In the Dail yesterday, Ms Burton said a family of four adults will pay less than €200 per year in water charges. But other Coalition sources said the €200 figure was an "underestimation" and it was premature to be attaching a figure to ongoing deliberations.
The Labour Party leader made the announcement during a heated exchange with Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins. Mr Higgins said Ms Burton wanted a family of four, including an 18- and 19-year-old, to pay just under €500 per year, and a family of five to pay under €600.
Ms Burton accused Mr Higgins of scaremongering. "I am perfectly happy to say that it is my view that the charge in relation to the type of family and household you have indicated will be below €200," she said.
A spokesman for Ms Burton later said she was expressing a personal view when she mentioned the €200 figure. He added that there was no division between the two coalition parties on the issue and that the €200 mentioned by the Tanaiste was the potential amount after tax concessions were taken into account in the case of workers, and extra welfare payments in case of those depending on social welfare.
A spokesman for Taoiseach Enda Kenny clearly distanced Fine Gael from the Tanaiste's estimate. "She is entitled to express her view. But no decisions have yet been made on this," Mr Kenny's spokesman said.
Earlier, the Taoiseach utterly rejected suggestions from Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, that given weekend protests which brought 150,000 people on to the streets, it was time to "step down" Irish Water. The Taoiseach countered that it was time to "step up" the State utility to provide a better nationwide water service.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly said the Government is not budging on the issue of customers handing over their PPS numbers.
"The reality is, in order to get allowances, and ensure that allowances are given out, the PPS route was the route that was chosen and there are no plans to change that," he said.
Mr Kelly was speaking during a visit to the State's largest waste treatment facility in Ringsend, Dublin City.