Monday 20 May 2019

Q & A: Who will ultimately pick up the tab for the cost of political deal on suspension of water charges?

Photo: Fennell photography
Photo: Fennell photography
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

What is the deal on Irish Water and water charges?

An independent commission is to be established to examine funding models, charging and conservation incentives.

The commission will send their recommendations to an Oireachtas committee with members from each of the political parties for further investigation and testimony from experts. The committee will then compile their own report and submit recommendations to the Dáil.

TDs will vote on how to proceed. While all this takes place, water charges will be suspended.

How long will the suspension stay in place?

Fine Gael believe the commission will take about nine months to complete its work. However, the fact that a majority of TDs oppose water charges means they are highly unlikely to be reinstated during the lifetime of this Dáil.

Will people who have paid their bills get refunds?

This is the multi-million euro question. Neither Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil are particularly clear on what will happen. Fine Gael ministers said yesterday that people should get their money back and Environment Minister Alan Kelly told the Dáil that "if there is any fairness, the law-abiding people who could afford to pay and did pay will have to get their money back". That will mean Irish Water will have to reprocess well in excess of two million financial transactions.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin suggested that the more likely approach would be for Irish Water to continue to chase those who have so far failed to pay.

It is likely the all-party committee will look at this issue, meaning that at the very least nobody will get a refund any time soon.

Were people who dodged charges right along?

Well, they will be feeling a little bit smug today. Sources in both parties say that there are mechanisms in place to pursue these people for arrears but with charges suspended it's unlikely too many households will fear being chased.

Is Irish Water going to be abolished?

No. As part of the compromise, Fianna Fáil has agreed to drop its policy of abolishing Irish Water. The utility will remain but a new independent oversight body will be appointed to monitor its work in an effort to "improve transparency". It will report directly to an Oireachtas committee.

What about all the staff whose job it is to administer water bills?

Hundreds of people are involved in dealing with customer queries and administering bills. It would seem likely that jobs will be lost but neither party is admitting this yet.

Who will pay for the €700m a year that Irish Water needs to upgrade outdated pipes and infrastructure?

You will. Our water infrastructure is in a desperate state and needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. The money will now have to come from general taxation.

What about metering?

To date, 828,000 water meters have been installed around the country. Irish Water has received no instruction from the Department of Environment so for the moment the installation of meters is continuing. The utility has an initial target of installing one million meters.

Isn't the scrapping of charges against EU rules?

This is another question which has all the politicians arguing. Alan Kelly told the Dáil that failing to apply a 'polluter' pays policy "will likely result in substantial EU fines in the years ahead".

Fianna Fáil has insisted that this isn't the case.

So who won: Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil?

Fianna Fáil will get to claim that they used the leverage handed to them on Election Day to get rid of water charges. Fine Gael get the prize of government and have secured the future of Irish Water. Ultimately though, Fianna Fáil TDs are far happier with the deal.

Irish Independent

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