Govt water charge amendments unlikely to fool eu commission

06 July 2016

I have genuine concerns about government amendments to the Water Services Amendment Bill 2016, that will give the minister power to unilaterally extend both the term of the suspension of water charges and the lifespan of the Water Commission.

There is little doubt but that these amendments could result in our exposure to daily fines, amounting to millions of Euro, from the European Commission.

I understand that Minister Coveney is to travel to Brussels in the coming days to try and convince the Commissioner Karmenu Vella that this Bill is not tantamount to scrapping water charges.

He will argue that the Bill is in line with EU law and in particular article 9 of the Water Framework directive, and that therefore, we should be exempt from any fines.

However, the Minister’s amendments weaken his hand to a significant extent. He will on the one hand, be arguing that the suspension of charges is nothing more than a temporary little arrangement that doesn’t amount to their abolition.

However, on the other hand, will be bestowing unto himself, powers to extend the suspension indefinitely!

Quite how he hopes to square this with Commissioner Vella who has already ruled that the derogation which exempted us from water charges, was waived by Fianna Fail in 2010, is not at all clear!

For that reason, I believe that Report Stage of the Bill should be postponed, at least until we have clarity from Commissioner Vella.

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