Irish Water workers 'spat at and stoned' by meter protesters
Irish Water workers have been spat at, had stones thrown at them and cars driven at them while installing meters outside homes, the company has said.
The workers have also been verbally attacked and intimidated online. The problem is particularly bad in the Dublin area, it's been claimed.
Some of the attacks have been so serious that they are now under investigation by gardai.
A company spokesperson said that since meter installation began last August, protesters had assaulted workers on eight occasions.
"Protesters have driven their cars at metering staff and at barriers behind which metering staff are working, sometimes on machinery," said the spokesperson.
"Protesters have spat at team members and thrown objects ranging from glass to stones. They have surrounded team sites and refused to let staff leave."
The spokesperson also described a "heavy and persistent level of online intimidation of individual team members with videos and photos uploaded to social media sites encouraging increased levels of cyber and physical abuse".
Environment Minister Alan Kelly said Irish Water had formally reported the abuse incidents to him.
"I have quite a human concern about the guys who are putting in the meters. It is becoming a bit of an issue, particularly in Dublin," he said.
"It's not something I want to dial up too much because those involved would probably get some enjoyment from that, but I do have a concern that teams are being intimidated to a degree which is completely unacceptable."
While most protests against teams installing meters have been peaceful, Irish Water believes the same group of protesters is repeatedly engaging in violent targeted behaviour.
"These instances are localised and far from the standard response from the public," said the spokesperson. "Much of the feedback, whatever the views on water charges, is favourable comment on the standard of the work undertaken.
"Where appropriate, incidents have been reported to the gardai and a number are under investigation."
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Irish Water's projected running costs for the next two years - at €1.9bn - are more than twice the average cost of water companies in England and Wales.
A report for the water regulator carried out by London-based consulting firm NERA has made the finding.
The report says that Irish Water's costs were twice the average for English water companies per head of population and 2.6 times the levels in Scotland.
It found that salary payments for the Irish company will account for 29pc of its running costs compared with 10.5pc in England and Wales.
The figures were 11.6pc in the North and 21.9pc in Scotland.
On foot of the NERA study, the water regulator has proposed that Irish Water cuts its operating costs by €145m over the next two years.