Monday 26 September 2016

Public Water Forum could turn the tide

Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30

Dr Tom Collins: chairman of the Public Water Forum
Dr Tom Collins: chairman of the Public Water Forum

The setting up of the Public Water Forum so close to the General Election smacks of a cynical, or perhaps desperate, move by the Government to subdue the enduring crisis over Irish Water, which has seen just 51pc of customers paying their bills.

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The creation of the forum was provided for under the Water Services Act 2013. However, it was not until last July that a chairman was appointed, and applications for the 32-strong forum are only being issued today.

Dr Tom Collins, the inaugural chair of the forum - who has waived any fee for his services - is correct when he says that Irish Water has become a toxic issue.

And he is perhaps being kind when he observes that the Government and local authorities failed to foster public debate about the crucial challenges involved in the delivery of water services.

Because it is much worse than that.

It is not just the importance of the provision of safe, clean and affordable water and waste water services that the Government has failed to communicate. The Coalition has agitated the public with a series of controversies, including concerns around charges, a dubious conservation 'grant' and data protection issues.

That is why half of customers are not paying and why the installation of water meters in certain areas has all but stopped, until after the General Election at least.

The Government has failed to reassure the public about future privatisation. Moreover, Irish Water must stay on the Government's balance sheet following a critical finding last July from the European Statistical Agency (Eurostat) that the new utility is a non-market agency controlled by government.

Dr Collins, whose forum will represent the interests of all consumers, domestic and commercial, has appealed for those who refuse to pay their bills to join the forum. He has also stated that Irish Water should never be a private asset, which will strike a chord with many citizens.

Dr Collins's greatest challenge is to avoid the forum becoming a talking shop. However, a strong voice for consumers, disaffected and otherwise, could help to turn the tide of public opposition to Irish Water.

Irish Independent

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