fianna fáil conservation grant government water
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Fianna Fáil has asked the Government to explain why it cannot recoup the water conservation grant from householders who did not pay their water charges.
In correspondence to Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, the party’s spokesman Barry Cowen said it “beggars belief” that there is no mechanism available to prevent those who did not pay any money to Irish Water from keeping the € 100 payment.
Mr Cowen told The Irish Times he was simply seeking clarity on why the Government has ruled out this prospect immediately.
He said: “The Taoiseach has said the conservation grant will be unaffected by the decision to issue refunds.
“We are seeking an explanation of the efforts made and assess why it has been ruled out swiftly by the Government.”
Over 190,000 people claimed the grant but did not pay any of their Irish Water bills.
The Oireachtas committee on water charges and the confidence and supply agreement commits to equity for those who paid against those who did not.
A spokesman for Mr Murphy confirmed no effort would be made to recoup the conservation grant from those who did not pay their charges despite the concerns raised by Fianna Fáil.
It is understood the Department of Housing had made it clear to the European Commission the € 100 grant was not connected to the payment of monies to Irish Water. Therefore it cannot play any role in the refunds of water charges.
‘We cannot have our cake and eat it’
Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said the final cost of refunds will reach €178 million but insisted it will not impact on public services.
The Minister said he expects €300 million will be available due to capital and Government underspending this year, of which between €40 million and €50 million will be from the capital budget.
He said the Department of Housing budget, for example, had increased by 50 per cent this year, but due to changes in the planning process some projects will transfer to 2018.
In the midst of a housing crisis, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said it defied logic to divert unspent housing funds to cover the cost of water refunds.
Replying to this point, Mr Donohoe replied:
“We cannot have our cake and eat it here. We can’t be in a situation where the Oireachtas decides or a political party decides they want to pay for this out of Government expenditure and they want to pay to out of taxation and then when I look to try and do it then be in a position where people say ‘hang on the choices you are making are wrong’.”
Mr Donohoe said he and Fine Gael had argued otherwise during the debate on water charges but lost.
The Minister said the Government had to live with the outcome determined by the Oireachtas committee on water charges.
Referring to capital projects, the Minister said Irish Water would have to compete with health, housing and education for its plans to succeed.