Sunday 24 September 2017

Irish Water should have been set up decades ago

We have a major problem with infrastructure and a national utility that charges for usage is the solution

Visible minority: Anti-water charges protestors may be visible on the streets but most people have paid their bills, as those who live in rural areas have been doing for years Photo: Sunpix
Visible minority: Anti-water charges protestors may be visible on the streets but most people have paid their bills, as those who live in rural areas have been doing for years Photo: Sunpix
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

The water issue is not the key challenge facing politicians. The infant recovery is fragile and the next government will need to focus quickly on more urgent domestic and external threats. Irish business is losing its competitive edge again, according to last week's report from the National Competitiveness Council. Public service trade unions are gearing up for another pay round, beyond the deal agreed at Haddington Road, which was supposed to run to 2018.

The external economic environment is weak, shaped by our membership in the faltering eurozone, where Germany is resisting the European Central Bank's tentative efforts at economic stimulus. The world economic outlook is poor, the oil price has bottomed out and the euro exchange rate is appreciating again. Britain could be heading out of the European Union. Meanwhile, the country's two largest political parties have been debating, according to the Irish Times, whether Irish Water should be a state 'agency' or a state company, whatever difference that makes, and whether householders, of whom over 60pc have already paid, should face water charges at all.

Just three years on from its establishment, the water company's very existence is to enjoy a review by a commission. The slow-motion Irish Water train-wreck is accelerating. The water industry has been the Cinderella of Irish public utilities since the State was founded. Until 2013, it was the responsibility of 34 local authorities. Operating costs, whether expressed relative to population or kilometres of network, are almost double those at Northern Ireland Water.

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