March 3, 2016, 9:13 a.m.
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THE FUTURE OF IRISH Water looks likely to be up for discussion in future government talks as pressure grows on Fine Gael to do business with Fianna Fáil.The two parties are regrouping today for the first time since the election, which saw the outgoing coalition lose its majority by a significant margin.Taoiseach Enda Kenny indicated yesterday that Fine Gael is open to talking to Fianna Fáil, despite repeatedly ruling out a deal between them in the part.But water charges are expected to complicate any deal between the old civil war rivals.Fianna Fáil has pledged to abolish the utility if in power, calling it a red line issue in coalition talks, while Fine Gael has refused to reverse its position on the matter.However, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney appeared to backtrack on Wednesday, saying Fine Gael “would be willing” to discussing the issue of water charges during negotiations.Speaking to reporters the following day, Kenny insisted that people should continue to pay their water bills, saying it would be “a seriously costly and seriously historic mistake to move away from having a single national utility”.Mandate Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary is one of a number of deputies to have questioned the legitimacy of that stance, however.Earlier this week, he pointed out that the great majority of TDs in the 32nd Dáil now have a mandate to abolish water charges.“We were very clear during the campaign that we would abolish Irish Water, that we would suspend water charges for five years [and] would not give refunds,” he said.More than 61% of Irish Water customers (928,000 households) have now paid their charges, according to the most recent figures from the utility.This compares to 55% at the end of the second cycle and 44% at the end of the first billing cycle.Irish Water said yesterday that it “remains absolutely focused on the vital job of fixing Ireland’s water services”.“Customers are continuing to engage with us to make payments on their accounts and more customers are paying with each billing cycle,” it said.