2015 grant for water still being paid out, TDs told
Deadline for conservation grant passed 16 months ago
Households are still being paid the €100 Water Conservation Grant almost a year-and-a-half after the deadline for applications.
As Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil remain at war over water, it emerged that payments of the grant, once branded a "sop" to "soften the blow" of charges, are still taking place.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has heard that payments continue to be made to householders who have an entitlement dating back to 2015.
John McCarthy, the secretary general of the Housing Department - which also has responsibility for water - told the PAC that water programme expenditure in 2015 included €94m for the Water Conservation Grant.
He said that as of June 20, 2015, the 1.3 million households registered with Irish Water were eligible for the 2015 grant.
The Social Protection Department - which administers the scheme - has made payments totalling just over €89m to 890,104 households.
"A small number of residual payments continue to be made to householders who have an entitlement to the 2015 Water Conservation Grant," Mr McCarthy added.
Last night, a spokesman for the Housing Department could not say how many households remain eligible to claim the grant.
"The Department of Social Protection processes the Water Conservation Grant on behalf of this department so we do not have immediate access to the data requested," he said.
"We understand that there is a small number of claims currently being processed... for reasons including appeals and out-of-date cheques."
The grant was announced in 2014 ahead of the introduction of water charges the following year. While the then-government insisted at the time it was a grant to assist with water conservation, Róisín Shortall argued in the Dáil that the grant "has nothing whatsoever to do with conservation".
"It is, in fact, a sop to try to soften the blow and obtain some kind of political acceptance in respect of these charges," she said.
Householders could spend the grant on whatever they chose and it was also payable to people on group water schemes or with their own private supplies.
Payment of a Water Conservation Grant for 2016 did not take place due to the suspension of water charges under the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Last night, the Department of Social Protection said that 886,716 households were paid the grant in 2015, accounting for €88,671,600.
In 2016, 3,387 households were paid €338,700, while so far in 2017, 16 months after the October 2015 closing date for applications, three households have been paid the grant.
A Social Protection spokeswoman said it continued to process outstanding payments from 2015 in cases where "the customer could satisfactorily demonstrate eligibility" in line the regulations governing the payment of the grant.
Any agreement on refunds of water charges thrashed out by the Oireachtas committee examining the future of water services would likely see repayments of the charges minus the €100 grant.
Mr McCarthy was appearing at the PAC to answer questions on his department's 2015 accounts. He told TDs that €222m was provided to Irish Water for spending on infrastructure projects.
A further €399m was allocated to Irish Water from the Local Government Fund as an "operational subvention".
He said this funded the allowance of 21,000 litres of free water provided to households per child. It also funded the cost of capping water charges, a decision that was made by the government the previous year. That subvention rose to €652.1m in 2016.