EU steers clear of involvement in Irish water charges row
The EU is trying its best to stay out of Ireland's escalating political row over water charges.
The European Commission has refused to comment on Fine Gael's claim that the Oireachtas committee's recommendations on water charges would breach EU rules.
It follows two weeks after EU environment chief Karmenu Vella said it was "questionable" whether charging only for excess water use would pass EU muster.
The EU's water framework directive says all water users - households, businesses and farmers - must help recover the costs of water services, based on a "polluter pays" philosophy.
The problem with charging for excessive use, Mr Vella said in a letter to Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes, is that it is not a "reliable source of revenue" to cover the costs of providing water services and the need for investment in water infrastructure, which he said is "in serious need of upgrade".
The EU has previously said that reverting to paying for water through general taxation would also breach the rules, as the Government can't renege on its commitment to charges once agreed.
Ireland's second problem is that it has exhausted the Commission's goodwill after repeatedly flouting EU drinking water and urban waste water rules.
Just last month the Commission took the Government to court for failing to upgrade waste water treatment in 38 towns and cities, including Athlone, Cork City and Waterford City.