Water meter claim sparks war of words between SDLP and SF

January 19, 2015

A row has erupted between local representatives of Sinn Fein and the SDLP after the latter’s Councillor Sean Rogers accused Sinn Fein of hypocrisy in its opposition of the installation of water meters in the South.

Councillor Rogers made the claim while revealing that Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy oversaw the installation of thousands of water meters in the North during his tenure as Regional Development Minister.  He says such revelation makes for “uncomfortable reading” and, as such, the party’s continued opposition to water charges south of the border is “the utmost in hypocrisy”.

“The Department of Regional Development has advised that between 2007 and 2014 some 32,000 meters have been installed at domestic properties. The revelations will make uncomfortable reading, especially for the underprivileged families in our society. Sinn Fein followers will be most uncomfortable of all when they learn the fact that a total of 26,510 meters have been installed at family homes during Minister Conor Murphy’s watch.  Indeed, in 2008, a year after Conor Murphy had been installed as DRD Minister, his department installed almost 12,000 water meters at domestic properties, almost triple the amount of the average,” Councillor Rogers said.

“I contend that it is the utmost in hypocrisy to be seen joining in the water charge protests in the Republic whilst supervising the installation of water meters in this part of Ireland,” he added.

Councillor Rogers says he intends to pursue the issue by requesting a geographical breakdown of where meters were installed during Mr Murphy’s time as Minister.

“I do not accept the Department’s assertion that they do not know where they installed the water meters. I will also be making demands of Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy to assure that he does not continue the installation process which his predecessor, Conor Murphy, allowed to go unchallenged.”

However, Sinn Fein MLA, Mickey Brady, has hit back at Councillor Rogers’ assertion, claiming the installation of water meters here was compulsory through legislation, something which Mr Murphy attempted to amend during his time as DRD Minister.

“British direct rule ministers introduced legislation in 2006 requiring NI Water – the public utility in the North – to fit water meters in homes in preparation for their plans to introduce water charges.  When Conor Murphy became DRD minister in 2007 he stopped water charges, the further privatisation of water services and the introduction of universal household metering in 2007/8.  However, [he] required cross-party support to amend the 2006 legislation on metering.  There were parties opposed to any change in the structure of NI Water, including the SDLP, which prevented Conor Murphy’s proposals going forward when presented at the Assembly Regional Development Committee,” Mr Brady explained.

“While there was a statutory provision on the department to install meters in new-build homes, the reality is that these meters have never been read and domestic users have paid no water charges.  My party colleague, Gerry Kelly MLA, secured a commitment from DRD minister Danny Kennedy last November that he would look again at the installation of water meters in new builds to comply with legislation and the EU Water Framework Directive.  It is our hope that Danny Kennedy will get the necessary cross-party support to end the installation of water meters in new builds.”

Pledging his party’s support for such a directive, Mr Brady suggested Councillor Rogers should work “to ensure his own party’s support for an end to metering”.

Sinn Féin stopped water charges in the North and will do so in the South if the coalition government fails to listen to citizens,” he added.