Irish Water 'will not be abolished' - Simon Coveney

Protesters gathered outside the General Post Office (GPO) building in central Dublin for a mass rally Image copyright BBC (Shane Harrison)
Image caption Protesters gathered outside the General Post Office (GPO) building in central Dublin for a mass rally

Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has said there is no question of Irish Water being abolished.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people demonstrated across the Republic of Ireland against water charges.

The controversial austerity measure is a key part of the government's plan to pay back the international financial bailout the state had to seek in 2010.

On Sunday night, Drogheda mayor Kevin Callan resigned from the governing Fine Gael party over the issue.

Mr Callan said he did so in light of what he called the overwhelming levels of public dissatisfaction with the handling of the introduction of water charges by the government and Irish Water.

The utility company was set up last month to provide water services throughout the Republic.

However, speaking on Monday, Mr Callan's former party colleague, Mr Coveney said: "There's one certainty, and that's that Irish Water won't be scrapped.

"Irish Water has spent a lot of money to set up a very large new company, which is going to remain in public ownership, and is going to provide water in a much more cost-effective and efficient manner in the future.

"But I think we need to learn from some of the mistakes that have been made over the last six or eight months."

Referendum call

The political debate on the issue has widened with Ireland's largest union and Labour Party politicians calling for a referendum that would guarantee Irish Water remaining in the hands of the state.

Micheál Martin, the leader of the opposition Fianna Fáil party, has described as "utterly bogus" a claim by Prime Minister (taoiseach) Enda Kenny that the top rate of income tax would have to rise by 4% if water charges were not introduced.

SIPTU president Jack O'Connor and former Labour minister of state Joe Costello have both called for a referendum that would guarantee Irish Water remaining in public ownership.

The Right2Water campaign said 150,000 people had turned out to protest on Saturday.

Right2Water campaigner and former member of Unite trade union, Brendan Ogle, has also criticised the Taoiseach's warning that income tax would rise if the government was to abolish water charges.

'Double tax'

Speaking on state broadcaster RTÉ, Mr Ogle said the turnout at the anti-charge protests on Saturday sent a significant message to the government over the level of disquiet at local level.

He said his campaign against water charges was not in any way political and described the charges as a form of double taxation.

"We believe water should be paid through progressive general taxation and that is how it should be done.

"This is a double tax on something we already pay for."

Meanwhile, the Economic Management Council is beginning its second week of examining the issues surrounding Irish Water.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said the council, an inner Cabinet comprising the taoiseach and three other ministers, would be addressing the issues of certainty about what charges people would face in the future.

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