Coveney: FG not proposing to drop water charges

Wednesday 02 March 2016 22.23
Simon Coveney said '77% of people are currently paying for water'
Simon Coveney said '77% of people are currently paying for water'

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said Fine Gael "are not proposing to do away with water charges".

Speaking on RTÉ News At One, Mr Coveney said: "It would be a mistake to start reversing now what has been a difficult process to set up a single utility water service."

The Cork South-Central TD said: "There are plenty of people in Ireland who think that paying for water is the right thing to do and 77% of people are currently paying for water, which says a lot."

The payment of water charges and the future of Irish Water have become predominant issues being debated by political parties and Independent TDs ahead of negotiations on the formation of a new government.

Mr Coveney was attempting to somewhat clarify remarks he made on on RTÉ's Prime Time last night. 

On that programme, he said Fine Gael wants to try to put a coherent and sensible government in place and that the party is willing to change.

He said Fine Gael needs to take on board, within reason, what other parties are looking for and that it needs to be a party that is willing to do things that it has not been willing to do before. 

He said he did not think going into government with Sinn Féin was an option.

Asked if the price of going into government with Fianna Fáil was giving up on water charges, Mr Coveney said Fine Gael would certainly be willing to talk about water because "it is a big issue".

He denied the party was doing a u-turn on water charges, but said the party was "talking about trying to reflect what people want in Ireland. Some people agree with water charges, other people don't".  

Fianna Fáil spokesman on the environment and local government Barry Cowen said the abolition of Irish Water remained a top priority for his party.

Water charges: Where do the parties stand?

Political parties and Independents have been setting out their positions on the future of the Irish Water utility and on the payment or refunding of water charges.

The future of Irish Water has dominated the post-General Election debate.

This morning, Sinn Féín Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonal led a protest outside Leinster House calling for the abolition of water charges.

In a statement, Sinn Féin said that, if the charges were abolished, the "money was not there" to give a refund. 

The Social Democrats said they believe that people who had not paid should not be pursued and it was "only fair" that those who had paid should be refunded. 

The Labour Party said it had not yet had an opportunity to "sit down and contemplate the issue" and would adopt a "wait-and-see" approach on the matter.

Richard Boyd-Barrett of the Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit group said he believed those who had already paid should get a refund.

Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD, Bríd Smith, who was elected yesterday to the fourth seat in Dublin South Central, has said she believes there is a "huge role" for the alliance in the business of the Dáil. 

On Morning Ireland she said it was clear the left would not be forming a government but there was a defined role for it in representing people who want real change from their perspective. 

On the issue of water charges, Ms Smith suggested that the money to disband Irish Water could be got from "big corporations and high earners".

Shane Ross of the Independent Alliance has said that the alliance is prepared to play a "constructive role in the formation of a new government".

He said the electorate had sent them and the country a message that they want something very different.

Mr Ross added that Irish Water "needed to be reformed" and he personally "disapproved fundamentally of state monopolies of these kind".

He also said that households "would be foolish to pay water rates now", given the "signals" sent out yesterday by Minister Coveney.

Some 745,000 consumers have paid the first round of charges. 

Mr Ross also said that "anything to do with NAMA" should come back before the Public Accounts Committee.

He said the government and "anybody involved here - particularly NAMA" should co-operate with investigative committees in Northern Ireland.

The Dublin-Rathdown TD described the issue as "shameful" and a "very murky business".