Cabinet discusses proposals for water charge costs

The Cabinet is discussing proposals for the cost of the water charge at a special meeting this morning.

However it is understood that Labour Party ministers will not sign off on any decision on water charges at the meeting, which is now underway.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was understood to be keen to retake the political initiative by signing off on proposals from Environment Minister Phil Hogan for the charge this morning, after the Government came under increasing pressure in recent days to reveal the pricing strategy at Irish Water.

The Government is understood to want the charge to come in at under €250 per annum (based on an average annual usage per person of 55,000 litres) - less than the €300 figure circulated in recent weeks - with a standing charge of around €50.

However going into the meeting this morning, Labour's Brendan Howlin indicated that a further meeting would needed in two weeks' time.

"Well there is no agreement on the scale and nature of the charges yet," Minister Howlin said.

"We are going to have a discussion about that today - but there is no agreement that we will have an agreement today."

The Government cannot directly decide exactly how much households will pay in charges - but its decisions will have a major influence on the final bill.

Ministers have to decide two specific things - firstly they have to put forward their own suggestions to the Energy Regulator, which will make the final decision on the level of charges in August.

But ministers also have to decide on the 'subvention' for Irish Water - in other words, the amount of central government funding it will pay to the new body.

The Government is also understood to be planning an allowance for households with children

Also on the agenda at this morning's Cabinet meeting - the last before the Dáil breaks for Easter - will be the contentious plans for free GP care for children under six. This proposal has come under renewed attack from doctors in recent weeks who say it is unworkable with current funding and staffing levels.

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