Buncrana Together has this week received a reply from Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Agriculture, Food & Marine to questions we asked him about his party's response to our concerns articulated very clearly by Marian Harkin, MEP, (see Irish Water Charges, who decides Brussels or Dublin?).
These concerns relate to Ireland's implementation of it's next phase of the River Basin Management Plan, 2015-2021. Every EU country is committed to producing 3 River Basin Management Plans as part of the EU Water Framework Directive 2000. Each phase outlines in 7 year cycles it's plans for water infrastructure and it's funding. After the 3rd and final plan it is hoped that each country will reach the goals as set out in the Water Framework Directive.
By the way Ireland's first plan 2007-2014 included our hard won 9.4 Exemption and domestic water charges was funded through general taxation and water infrastructure was the responsibility of local authorities and government public bodies.
(At the outset we must point out that we have tried to highlight the importance and immediacy of this issue, by email, publicising and through social media. However, Mr McConalogue has been the only one, so far, to respond. This includes the Anti Water Charges movement in general, a sad and unbelievable outcome).
Mr McConalogue response was
"Fianna Fáil believes that established practise in Ireland refers to the situation that prevailed when the Water Framework Directive was established. This means paying for water via general taxation. Our legal advice upholds the view that it is legally possible for Ireland to end water charges.
The next River Basin Management Plan has not been submitted pending the review of the Expert Water Commission. In our submission to that commission Fianna Fáil outlined its opposition to domestic water charges and upon a final decision by the Oireachtas on the matter we expect the River Basin Management plan will reflect that view. "
Mr McConalogue refers to 'Expert Water Commission', (see our article Establishment of an Expert Commission on Domestic Public Water Services). The findings of this Commission are due out later this month and will go before the Oireachtas in February and a vote on the final recommendations will be held by the end of March next year.
Mr McConalogue's response, is indeed grounds for optimism and together with their decision last week to back a recent Water Referendum Bill it would seem to confirm that the Party have finally committed to a decision on Irish Water Ltd and the Water Charges issue.
Many people in Ireland, including ourselves have been skeptical about Fianna Fáil's promises, no doubt due to their involvement and handling of the collapse of the Irish economy and the bank bailout in 2008. Buncrana Together has repeatedly questioned Fianna Fáil's commitment to their Party's clear policies and their TD's promises with regards to abolishing Irish Water and Water Charges (see our article Fianna Fáil's Four Core Principles).
Their stance last June when they stood up to threats from the EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella over the Water Framework Directive, was a further indication of this commitment . An incident which Fine Gael Minister Simon Coveney described as the "political war over water charges in Ireland".
However, Fianna Fáil's policies were called into question at the beginning of this month when John McGuinness, a high ranking Fianna Fáil TD said "many members of the party did not know what the party's policy on water charges was. We are trying to be on both sides of the argument." Irish Times, Nov 1.
To us, who have been skeptical, this was a timely intervention, bearing in mind the results of the 'Independent' Water Commission are due out this month. We can only assume by this stage that Fianna Fáil have met, discussed and finalised their position on Water Charges. A conclusion which is borne out by Mr McConalogue's response and the party's stance on the Water Referendum Bill.