Saturday, March 2, 2024

O’Neill rules out imposing water charges in Northern Ireland

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Stormont’s First Minister has ruled out the imposition of water charges in Northern Ireland.

The UK Government has made the release of a £3.3 billion package to support the return of devolution dependent on the newly formed ministerial executive in Belfast committing to introduce its own additional revenue-raising measures.

Water charging is not the only option open to ministers to raise extra cash for public services, but it is one of the more significant potential tools at their disposal.

Sinn Fein First Minister Michelle O’Neill made clear her opposition to such a measure on Monday.

Her comments chime with weekend remarks by DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly who said it is unsustainable to ask people to pay more for “poor public services”.

Ms O’Neill said the Government needed to shoulder the burden and deliver a “proper funding model” for Northern Ireland.

“I’m saying very clearly no to water charges,” she told BBC NI.

“I’m saying very clearly that you can’t burden people who are living through a cost of living in crisis with additional household bills whilst their services and public services are declining. That’s not the right spot for us to be.

“So what we intend to do is to fight together for a proper funding model, we intend to be at the Treasury in the coming weeks to make that case again very clearly.

“We’ll talk about it again at our executive this week. We are unified in trying to achieve a proper funding model”.

She added: “I’m not working on the basis of failure, we intend to succeed. We need a proper funding model. When you look at how Scotland are funded, at how Wales are funded, we are funded below need.

“And it’s not on the basis of us standing with a begging bowl, which I often hear referred to. This is about us fighting for good public services. This is us fighting for what’s right and just and that is that we’re properly funded to deal with the needs of the public that we collectively serve.”

Ms Little Pengelly told the BBC on Sunday that there was a huge number of hard-pressed families in Northern Ireland as she voiced concern about the potential impact of new revenue-raising measures.

“Many of those families are the very same families who are trying to bring up children, stay in work, get childcare,” she said.

“We know how much financial pressure these families are under.

“A number of these proposals will do nothing but put additional pressure on those hard-pressed families at a time of a cost-of-living crisis.”

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