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Varadkar: Water charges will have to be paid 'sooner or later'

NewsBy Sunday World
Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar has reopened the controversy over the future of Irish Water, warning that "sooner or later" householders will have to pay charges.

The Social Protection Minister criticised Fianna Fáil for its focus on getting rid of charges in the talks leading to the minority government deal, saying he believed issues such as health were more important.

"I just think that they got themselves off the hook during the election campaign," Mr Varadkar said. "I've no doubt that sooner or later in Ireland people will pay domestic water charges. It might not be in a year's time or two years' time or nine months' time. I don't know when, but that's the direction of travel in the world and that's European law," he added.

Mr Varadkar said there is a compelling case for paying charges.

"It's the best way to ring-fence money and invest in infrastructure and the best way to encourage people to conserve," he told Newstalk Radio's Pat Kenny.

Mr Varadkar denied the minority government is a hostage to Fianna Fáil deciding when to pull the plug. But he conceded that government numbers make up only around a third of the Dáil and "that does require us to do things differently... It does mean we'll probably be able to do less than we would like to do or less than previous governments have been able to do."

In relation to his own brief, Mr Varadkar said one of his priorities is examining ways to get more people to get private pensions. He said many countries are introducing compulsory schemes or automatically enrolling people who must consciously choose to opt out.

He said the age at which pensions are paid out is rising.

"It's 66 now. It'll be going up towards 68 over the next couple of years and that is the right thing to do... People are living 20 or 30 years after they retire, which is a great thing on one level but is not sustainable from a pensions point of view, so we will over time have to increase the pension age," Mr Varadkar said.

The Dublin West TD - viewed as one of the main contenders to take over from Taoiseach Enda Kenny when he steps down as Fine Gael leader - said it's up to Mr Kenny when he decides to go.

"I certainly don't think he should set a date or anything like that because once a politician does that you're a lame duck. That happened to Tony Blair and that happened to Bertie Ahern. And I also don't think it should necessarily be any time soon," he added.

He insisted his party is more concerned with providing "good government" than planning when Mr Kenny should step down. On the row over the location of the new Children's Hospital at St James's, the former health minister said there is no perfect site.

"But when people actually set foot in that place and when they see it in 2020 or 2021, people are going to wonder why we didn't build it 10 years ago."