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Water charges could be introduced in Northern Ireland, says DUP minister Poots

Edwin Poots said potentially the Executive may have to commit to raise extra revenue through the introduction of water charges or a hike in rates bills (Liam McBurney/PA)
Edwin Poots said potentially the Executive may have to commit to raise extra revenue through the introduction of water charges or a hike in rates bills (Liam McBurney/PA)
Andrew Madden

Andrew Madden

DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has suggested water charges could be implemented in order fund some of the commitments made in the Stormont deal.

However, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill was quick to rule out the possibility of water charges being implemented.

New Decade, New Approach details a series of measures that will require additional money, such as more police officers, resolving the health crisis and teachers' pay.

To deliver on these commitments, the UK Government has pledged a substantial financial package for Northern Ireland, however it is unclear exactly how much this would be.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, Edwin Poots suggested this figure could be around £2billion, however he warned that the Treasury could push for rates increases, such as a water charges, to meet the financial needs of the deal.

Mr Poots said, in discussions with Julian Smith, the Secretary of State was reluctant to say how much extra money would be supplied by the Treasury.

"He was very resistant about being tied down to a particular figure, but we were working off identified need and they were working to ascertain exactly what it would take to meet those needs," he said.

"He said he didn't want to make any promise of a figure and I said 'well all you have to say is 'billions'', and that would be of course at least two billion.

"That may well come with strings attached, so for example, and I don't know this, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they do press us to raise rates at a higher level, that we have to do something in terms of water rates. Those could be pressures applied by the Treasury, and we will have to wait and see if that is the case."

Currently, water charges are included in domestic rates set by councils.

Mr Poots said water infrastructure was running at a £1.5bn deficit and he would not be surprised if the UK Government requests more money is raised at a local level to reduce that deficit.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, however, has ruled out the introduction of a separate water charge.

"There will be no domestic water charges," she tweeted moments after Mr Poots spoke on Radio Ulster.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are visiting Stormont on Monday, where it is expected to be revealed how much extra funding will be provided by the Treasury.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said London and Dublin must deliver on the financial commitments made in the deal which brought about the restoration of Northern Ireland's devolved government.

"The New Decade, New Approach document presented by the Governments contains ambitious commitments for public services and workers," he said.

"To deliver these commitments, the governments pledged a substantial injection of funding, over and above the block grant. The local parties have done their part by restoring the power-sharing Executive.

"The two governments must now honour their pledge and provide the funding needed to deliver on the New Decade, New Approach document."

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