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European Commission Playing Politics with Domestic Water Charges – Ó Broin

27 June, 2016 - by Eoin Ó Broin TD

Responding to the latest statement by EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella on the issue of domestic water charges, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Water Eoin Ó Broin TD has accused the Commission of ‘flatly contradicting previous on the record statements’ and of ‘playing politics with domestic water charges in Ireland’.

Deputy Ó Broin said:

“The latest response by Commissioner Vella to a question from MEP Marian Harkin flatly contradicts previous on the record statements on the issue from his office. Until today, the official position of the Commissioner was that he did not respond to hypothetical questions.

“On a number of occasions, Commissioner Vella has told Lynn Boylan MEP and other Irish MEPs that the issue of the Irish Governments use of the derogation on water charges contained in Article 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive could only be considered in the context of the Second River Basin Management Plan. This plan is currently being drafted and will be submitted to the Commission next year.

“Article 9.4 is very clear. Member States may seek an exemption from applying the polluter pays principle if they can demonstrate that their overall plan allows them to achieve the objectives of the Directive.

“Equally, replies from the Commission on the issue of what constitutes ‘established practice’ relates to practices in place at the time of the transposition of the Directive. At this time, there were no domestic water charges in Ireland.

“Commissioner Vella's latest statement represents a very significant shift in position from what he has said on the matter previously. It appears that he is playing politics with the issue of domestic water charges in Ireland. This is very unfortunate as it gives the impression of the Commission actively interfering a highly contested domestic political debate in a very partisan manner.

“Both I and Lynn Boylan MEP will be meeting with officials from the Water Unit in Commissioner Vella’s Department in the coming weeks to discuss this issue.

“Sinn Féin’s position remains the same. We believe that the Government can and should invoke the exemption contained in Article 9.4 as party of their Second River Basin Management Plan. In doing so, they must clearly outline how they intend to deliver on the objectives of the Water Framework Directive including a more ambitious capital investment programme to bring our water and sanitation system up to EU standards.

“If the Commission were to reject the Second River Basin Management Plan solely on the grounds of  domestic water charges, the Government should then seek legal advice before deciding how best to proceed.” 

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