Sunday 25 September 2016

FF's water plans would have set us back 10 years - Coveney

Published 18/05/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Local Government and Planning Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke
Minister for Local Government and Planning Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke

Experts drawn from Ireland and abroad will conduct an in-depth review of how best to fund the water network, according to Housing, Planning and Local Government Minister Simon Coveney.

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Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Coveney also said that attempts by Fianna Fáil to abolish Irish Water in negotiations aimed at securing a minority Fine Gael government would have set the country back "a decade" and would have been a "disaster".

And he also confirmed that charges would be suspended for nine months from June, and that the cost to the Exchequer of making up the funding shortfall for Irish Water would be in the "low tens" of millions.

There was a need to "depoliticise" the debate around water, he added, and to ensure that a debate would be held on how best to pay for ongoing operational costs and upgrades.

While Fine Gael was in favour of a domestic charge, the matter would ultimately be decided by a Dáil vote.

Disaster

"We'll try to depoliticise the water discussions and have an informed conversation," he said. "The debate is about how we pay for water and how does that tally with our obligations [under EU rules]. But at the end, the Oireachtas will vote.

"Irish Water is starting to do the job it needs to do, as opposed to going back to what Fianna Fáil was looking for, which was local authorities running the system, which would have been a disaster and would have put us back a decade.

"Fine Gael's view is households should make a contribution. Whether it's after an allocation, or linked to the charging system we had before, remains to be seen."

A commission of experts, expected to number five and to include people drawn from here and abroad, will be tasked with undertaking a "comprehensive" review of domestic water supply and making recommendations regarding conservation and long-term funding, including charging.

They will report to a Dáil committee, and the matter will be put to a vote.

A separate advisory body will examine the performance of Irish Water, so as to "reassure" the public that the utility is "doing the job it's supposed to be doing", he said. He added that any shortfall in revenue for this year caused by the suspension of charges would be made up by the taxpayer.

"Irish Water has its investment programme," he said. "If domestic charging doesn't make a contribution, we need to make up that shortfall from the Exchequer, otherwise we underinvest, which is what happened in the past.

"We would have been spending €110m on the water conservation grant [which is now abolished]. The cost to the State of suspending charges for nine months, in the context of not providing the water conservation grant, isn't going to be huge."

He said he expected it to be in the "low tens of millions".

His comments come after he told RTÉ's 'Claire Byrne Live' that people who already paid their water bill would "not be made fools of" and that those who refused to pay would be pursued for the outstanding amount.

"A fella down the road who didn't pay will have to pay; he is going to be pursued once the suspension period is over," he said.

"Money owed to any form of tax will be pursued and, personally, I don't think water should be any different.

"I will not allow a situation where those people [who have paid] are made fools of. My preference of how to deal with that is that people are pursued, but pursued in a way that is affordable," he added.

Irish Independent

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