Tuesday 27 September 2016

Hard-working parents face being swept away by greedy agenda of Irish Water

Published 07/08/2014 | 02:30

Government doesn’t value adequately the selfsacrifices of mothers and fathers
Government doesn’t value adequately the selfsacrifices of mothers and fathers

Back in my boarding school days, the most boring feature of the week was lengthy sermons preached from the pulpit. They started with a biblical reference, "My text for today is taken from the gospel according to ... "

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At which point my mind would wander off towards my own selfish problems. Today's column could be a single theme discourse from the Book of Revelations, chapter 21, verse 6. That reference to the "water of life" is about a profound analogy between the vital perpetual necessity of water and symbol of the Holy Spirit. My take is to emphasise how fundamental water is to our daily family life. Politicians have grossly underestimated householders' reaction to the latest set of water tariffs.

The daily conveyor belt of news, relayed through varied media channels, contains lots of important international and domestic events. Each news report sees urgent new news replace perceived stale news. Then along comes a matter that isn't just interesting or important, but actually impacts directly on everybody. Wow, that affects me - my standard and cost of living.

Long after the media has moved on, we must calculate the effects on our household budget. Hence, the water-pricing structure, published by Commission for Energy Regulation, has caused serious distress to parents, in particular.

Many young journalists just don't get the all-in economic pressures of parenting. Their selfish response to €176 annual water charge in their rented apartment is "Just pay it. Stop whinging". Their logic is based on paying for an essential service through a public utility. They utterly miss the point.

Bloomberg News informs us that US Department of Agriculture recently released figures as to costs of rearing a child from 0-18 years among middle-income families. It's a whopping $241,080 (€180,577). This includes housing, nutrition, health care/cover, education and consumer services - everything.

Calves, lambs and foals are weaned in a year; human child dependency lasts two decades. It excludes costs associated with older adolescents; such as liabilities of third-level college fees, first cars, weddings, later housing supports in young adult lives. These are after-tax net costs, requiring huge gross earnings. Life experience suggests penury only starts with life partnerships and children. There are a million singleton adults residing here. Society sustains itself because of the perpetual human desire for procreation. When your first baby is born, your attitude to your own life changes. You'd literally give the shirt off your back to look after this defenceless new creature that takes over your life.

Government doesn't value adequately the self-sacrifices of mothers and fathers, who'll eventually learn that debts their kids owe them are only repaid to their own children. A fog of figures preceded our national debate about Irish Water: 150,000 gallons of annual adult consumption; 1.3 million out of a total 1.6 million households with public water supply; despite rollout of metering at 30,000 per month, 300,000 homes are set to have no meters; 1,101 water treatment plants, 401 wastewater facilities and leaking pipes require immediate investment of €1.77 billion; total reinvestment by the end of 2016 of €2.263 billion.

These corporate statistics mask the weighty burdens about to befall homemakers. An average family of four people, with two teenage children, are facing water bills of €10 per week. It's a long way from political promises to contain costs to around €240 per annum. Respective parties in cabinet fought for three weeks between 16 April and 6 May to ameliorate proposed pain. Broken pledges firstly relate to the concept of 38,000 litres "free water for children" and abolition of a standing charge.

Irish Water circumvented this 'political interference' by conducting their own limited study on 1,650 houses to show that only 21,000 litres child allowance was necessary.

They refused to provide data to the Oireachtas Environment Committee or have it publicly scrutinised.

The €100 top-up payment in additional household benefits entitlements for 413,000 recipients won't do anything for the working poor. Most arbitrarily, they impose an extra €102 charge when children reach their 18th birthday.

Charges of €2.44 per thousand litres, or €4.88 if you're also connected to a public sewerage system may seem superficially reasonable. I perused a contemporary 2014 Wexford County Council water bill, levied at €1.21, which came to a total of €674. The high cost culture of Irish water seeks to sustain 4,300 staff where 1,700 would conform to international norms; with the top 30 in HQ on six-figure salaries. Around 1,100 redundancies must be financed over next six years from 34 local authorities - all part of a sweetheart deal that runs till 2026.

Yet there's no phasing in when it comes to transitional approaches for punters; unlike the local property tax, which had a 50pc discount in year one.

Irish Water and their downtown office, the Commission for Energy Regulation, seem indifferent to hardship to consumers.

The Government underwrites a state monopoly being allowed to do what they like. The agenda of "Save the banks and screw the people" is now supplemented with preserving Irish Water profits, irrespective of householder angst. The Ombudsman has been legally excluded from any redress role.

The ministerial response to date from "Ballygowan Bruton" suggests they believe patronising platitudes will suffice. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein will subtly shift their stances.

The 'Assessed charges' water story is no nine-day wonder that will fade quickly from the public mind, it's set to become a political nightmare that could derail Fine Gael's re-election prospects.

Irish Independent

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