Differences between Govt parties over water charges

Wednesday 16 April 2014 21.42
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Eamon Gilmore said the Cabinet would return to the issue of water charges when there was some more work done on it
Eamon Gilmore said the Cabinet would return to the issue of water charges when there was some more work done on it
There were angry exchanges in the Dáil earlier
There were angry exchanges in the Dáil earlier
A free allowance will be available to all households
A free allowance will be available to all households

A senior Government source on the Labour side has said there are "substantive differences" between the two Coalition parties about water charges. 

The spokesperson said Labour is not satisfied with answers it received regarding the issues of metering and the ability to pay.

She said nothing was approved or decided at Cabinet today regarding the charges.

A senior Government source on the Fine Gael side said the discussion around the issue was "substantial" and "extensive".

They said the Cabinet will meet again in two weeks' time where the matter among other will be discussed.

The issue was discussed at both parties' parliamentary party meetings this evening.

Earlier, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that it is never helpful when issues that have to be considered by the Government are trawled in the media in advance.

He was responding to questions by journalists about whether he was unhappy with the way information was put into the media about water charges in the past 24 hours.

Asked if he blamed Fine Gael for that, the Labour leader said he did not blame anyone for it, but said it was unhelpful. 

Mr Gilmore said what was important was that the Government concentrates on the decision and gets it right.

He said the Cabinet had the first discussion on the issue this morning and it would be returning to it when there was some more work done on it.

However, Mr Gilmore said there were issues that needed to be addressed before a decision is made about it, including issues of ability to pay.

Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny labelled Fianna Fáil TDs "opportunistic hypocrites" in angry Dáil exchanges concerning the introduction of water charges.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions, Mr Kenny confirmed households would pay an average of at least €240 a year for the next two years.

He said advice from Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is that the maximum subvention cannot go beyond €537m, which equates to an average bill of €240 per household per year.

However, Mr Kenny added that the Government has not signed off on these figures.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Taoiseach was being anything but clear and was impossible to decipher.

He said people are concerned about what bill they will receive and accused the Government of trying to leak information and "soften the blow" of the charges.

In response, Mr Kenny said he took very little notice of "opportunistic hypocrites" such as Fianna Fáil and cited the party's four-year programme that envisaged an average charge of €400.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams accused the Taoiseach of bypassing the Dáil to engage in media spin.

He accused the Government of contempt for the Dáil given the way the details of the standing charge had been leaked.

Mr Adams asked the Taoiseach would he agree that the water charges are a flat, aggressive tax that will impact most on working families.

Mr Kenny agreed that any new charge is difficult to accept, but he stressed the need for a new entity that can provide new water infrastructure.

He said that 40% of the water in Dublin leaks into the ground.

Details of allowances to be decided

Details such as the level of standing charges will be left to the regulator and Irish Water.

The Government hopes that those agencies will then make the running in dealing with the water issue.

A free allowance will be available to all households, but the extent of this is not yet clear.

However, coupled to the general allowance, there will also be an additional allowance for each child in a household.

There will also be an additional allowance for those with specific medical needs who will require increased water usage.

Sources say that a standing charge of less than €50 per year is being proposed.

It is also understood that households that are not metered when charges come into effect in the autumn will be assessed on the basis of the number of people in the household.

Homeowners will be charged for using water from October 2014, but will not have to pay until January next year.