Latest:Taoiseach insists Government will not support any water charge system that breaks EU laws

Update 3.15pm: Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that his Government will not implement legislation on water charges which is illegal, writes Daniel McConnell.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Kenny said that it is for the Committee to hammer out a compromise and deliver a recommendation for the Dail to vote on.

"Clearly, you are not going to implement something that is illegal," the Taoiseach said.

He added: "The committee has not finished its work, it was given a paper by the chairman. I would expect them to deliberate on that and continue their work until such time as they bring forward their views and their recommendations to the Oireachtas."

Asked whether Attorney General Maire Whelan could be made available to Fianna Fail to help resolve the matter, Mr Kenny poured cold water on the idea.

He said: "You don't make the advice of the Attorney General available like that. I've said yesterday in the Dail, we set up a committee to examine the recommendations of the expert commission.

"As we said we want the discussions to continue within the committee. When they are finished their work, they will report to the Oireachtas," he added.

Update 11.47am: It has emerged that a small number of households are still claiming the €100 water conservation grant - despite it being scrapped a year ago.

The grant was paid to households in 2015 as a way of helping to cover the cost of water bills, and subsidise water conservation measures.

The state spent €89m covering the cost of the grants, which were then scrapped when water charges were suspended.

However the Public Accounts Committee has been told this morning that a small number of households are still claiming the one-off grant, having not received it in 2015.

Seperately, a Junior Minister has said that there needs to be a reasonable approach to water charges.

Joe McHugh said that the Oireachtas committee on water needs to be given a chance to complete its work.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are at odds over the legality of scrapping the charges.

Mr McHugh said there is an energy in Fine Gael to reach a solution and avoid a possible election.

"There's always the potential, in the moniortity situation that we're in," he said.

"We have a confidence and suppley [agreement] with Fianna Fáil and I'm sure people within Fianna Fáil, who I speak to privatey as well, that can find a solution to this empasse."

Earlier:

Fine Gael members have been warned that Ireland would be hit with a daily €20,000 fine, backdated to 2009, if water charges are scrapped, writes Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter.

Senator Paudie Coffey, who is a member of the water committee, told party members that Ireland would be fined more than €50m by the European Commission if they do not implement water charges.

He said that the arguments in favour of scrapping water charges put forward by Fianna Fáil in recent days were legally “questionable” and told his fellow Fine Gael members that the commission had already given Ireland a grace period to introduce these charges.

He said said that it was always going to be difficult toward the end of negotiations around the future of water.

It was agreed that space be given to the Fine Gael team in the committee to continue to negotiate the issues.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney also reiterated his stance that he will not legislate on something that is illegal.

There was laughter when Mr Coffey suggested that he had got to know members of the committee “intimately” during their work on the future of water charges.

Separately measures to free up vacant properties around the country were raised during the meeting.

Fergus O’Dowd told the meeting that there are currently 4,491 vacant homes in Cork City, with only 52 of these holiday homes.

He said Ireland’s vacancy rates were extremely high when compared with those of the UK.

Mr O’Dowd told Fine Gael members that Cork currently has a vacancy rate of 8.1%, this compares to a vacancy rate of just 1.7% in London.

He suggested that homeowners who leave properties vacant for more than a year should be penalised with a levy.

This motion was supported by Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney said he was already looking into the high rates of vacant properties across the country and hoped to have a report back on the matter in the next six to eight weeks.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny singled out secretary Noel Rock and noted what a good job he was doing on the minute-taking of meetings.

This again prompted some laughter.

It comes after the Dublin North-West TD faced criticism when he publicly suggested that it was time Mr Kenny stood down as Fine Gael leader.


 

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