Three months after joining Renua, Galway county councillor James Charity has sensationally quit Lucinda Creighton's party, accusing it of "U-turns on its water charges policy" and for failing to support him on "issues of local importance".
Cllr Charity, who joined Renua in May, declaring the party was "not there to prop up or support Government policy, but rather to act as the people’s watchdog", and who was announced as the party's Galway West candidate earlier this month, yesterday declared he was "parting ways with Renua Ireland". He will still be contesting the 2016 Election, but in his original status as an Independent.
While he said the "absence of policies" in health and agriculture were "of grave and irreparable concern", his chief reason for quitting was Renua's position on water charges, which he alleged was more about "attacking the newly developed Social Democrats without thinking through its own position". However his version of events has been challenged by a senior figure in Renua, Dep Billy Timmins,, who said the party's position on water charges has remained consistent since its formation.
Renua’s stated policy on water charges is: "We fundamentally disagree with how water charges have been introduced and will continue to do so until Irish Water has been radically reformed and public waste eliminated." Cllr Charity said he understood this to mean Renua was opposed to the introduction and methodology of water charges and would continue to be opposed to any form of direct charges until the methodology of investing in water infrastructure could be reviewed after the reform of service delivery.
"It therefore came as a great surprise to me," said Cllr Charity, "to see comments attributed to party leader Lucinda Creighton in the Irish Examiner on Sunday July 19 stating, 'I can’t understand how anybody who wants to see quality water services in this country, how they could say that they don’t have to be paid for…it’s very popular and populist at the moment for everyone to jump on the anti-water bandwagon.'"
Cllr Charity raised his concerns about this statement but was informed that Renua’s disagreement is "solely confined to the establishment of Irish Water" and that the party is "not opposed to water charges", and that a pro-charges stance on water was to be adopted.
"I cannot support this position," Cllr Charity said last night, "as it fundamentally fails to appreciate that water services have always been paid for in this country via indirect taxation - €490 million of which has this year been provided to Irish Water via the abolition of the Local Government Fund. The introduction of water charges in their current format creates a funding model where the taxpayer is targeted numerous times through direct taxation, indirect taxation, and once off payments."
However Renua deputy leader, Wicklow TD Billy Timmins, speaking to the Galway Advertiser, said Cllr Charity "did express concern" about the party position on Irish Water, but that he was sent "detailed responses" outlining the party position on water charges at the time.
"Our position on Irish Water has been consistent and responsible," Dep Timmins said. "While we believe the construction of Irish Water has been a complete disaster, and we want it revamped, but we do believe in the concept of paying for water. I realise this is difficult for some people to defend, witness Sinn Féin doing a U-turn on the issue during the Tallaght by-election.
"Water charges legislation was brought in in December 2013. Irish Water is a top heavy organisation that the consumer is paying to subsidise. However we believe in responsible water charges as it is a resource that has to be paid for. Our position has been consistent since we formed in March and follows from policies Reform Alliance members made during the water charges debates in the Dáil."
Dep Timmins also said it was unfair to accuse Renua of not having policies in health and agriculture. "At this moment we are drawing up policies in all areas, from education, to the economy, to health, to tax," he said. "It is unrealistic to expect a party that has only just been established, that receives no State funding, and is staffed mainly by volunteers, to have all policy details drawn up in such a short space of time, but we will have a detailed manifesto covering all these areas, before the election."
Cllr Charity said the party's alleged failure to support him on the issue of Annaghdown Cemetery "cemented my decision to leave". However Dep Timmins said that while Cllr Charity did raise this matter, "it is a wider issue, one that affects communities across the country, with councils refusing to extend cemeteries which are also areas of historic importance. Graveyards should be extended wherever they can, but it is our policy not to comment on individual cases."
Cllr Charity said he now feels he can only achieve his aims "as a true Independent" and he is "wholeheartedly happy to continue with my Independent status and contest the next General Election as an Independent".
Dep Timmins said: "I wish James well and we thank him for the work he has done for Renua during the period he was in the party, and I regret that he has resigned."