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Minister knew of school water crux

EDUCATION Minister Mary Hanafin knew over a year ago that schools faced crippling water bills but failed to act on warnings.

Yesterday it emerged that the Department of the Environment warned in October last year that local authorities were going to take a tough approach on unpaid bills, but nothing was done.

And Ms Hanafin may have known for even longer.

The Department of Education said there had been "discussions over the years" on the issue of water charges for schools between both departments, "including discussions at ministerial level".

Some schools have been hit with bills as high as €12,000, and principals have said they cannot afford to pay.

Last week the Government was forced into an embarrassing u-turn when it announced schools would be given a two-year exemption from usage-based water charges and would only have to pay a flat rate.

Conservation

Correspondence seen by the Irish Independent also shows that then-minister Dick Roche offered to pay for water conservation measures in schools to help reduce the bills in October 2006, but the Department of Education did not respond.

In a letter, Mr Roche suggested some schools would benefit from the measures, and that technical advice would also be provided at no cost to the Department of Education.

Mr Roche also refers to a pilot project conducted in a Co Wexford school.

He said specialist equipment installed at a cost of €9,000, including motion sensors on urinals, self-closing push taps and cistern dams, saw a reduction of 9,000 litres per day and a saving of €6,750.