Government faces crisis over FF call to axe water charges
A major row over water charges has erupted between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael that could threaten the future of the minority government.
Fianna Fail is now insisting that water charges in any form be abolished, going further than the recommendations of an Expert Commission that said households should pay for wasteful or excessive use.
Barry Cowen, the party's local government spokesman told a private meeting of the Oireachtas water committee that his party wants charges completely "scrapped".
Significantly, Mr Cowen said he does not accept the proposed "excessive usage" principle.
He said the country's water system should be funded through general taxation and within the parameters of the so-called fiscal space.
He added that his party stood by its legal advice saying scrapping charges is in line with the EU directive governing water.
Fine Gael has been left isolated, insisting the Expert Commission's recommendations should be followed.
Fianna Fail is siding with Sinn Fein and left-wing TDs - making the prospect of charges returning unlikely.
If a compromise is not reached, the committee may produce separate reports.
One will be a minority report authored by Fine Gael deputies. Both reports could then go to the Dail for a vote after St Patrick's Day.
At last night's meeting, it is understood 10 members expressed opposition to the idea of charges.
This includes the five Fianna Fail members, two Sinn Fein, AAA/PBP TD Paul Murphy and Independent TDs Seamus Healy and Thomas Pringle.
Those in favour of a charging regime include the six Fine Gael members, Labour Party TD Jan O'Sullivan and Green Party senator Grace O'Sullivan.
Two members have not expressed a preference, Independent TD Noel Grealish and Independent senator Padraig O Ceidigh, who is the committee chairperson.
Meanwhile, Housing Minister Simon Coveney yesterday indicated his willingness to budge on the refunds issue.