Saturday 25 January 2020

Public will need convincing on merits of charges

Photo: PA
Photo: PA

Paul Melia

Even if charges are reintroduced, the debacle that is Irish Water will still have to go back and convince people of the need to invest in the network and pay for their water.

There is little doubt that this will cost enormous sums of money, money that could have been put to better use had the previous government not made such a dog's dinner of establishing the utility.

The company has already spent more than €300,000 on public relations advice, coupled with the cost of employing a full-time press office. Another €650,000 has been spent on the 'cloud to glass' advertising campaign, designed to show people how water is treated and delivered to homes.

Now the utility admits that if charges are re-introduced - something that looks increasingly unlikely given the number of TDs opposed - it will have to begin the information campaign all over again.

It's important to note that Irish Water is doing the job it was designed to do. It's identifying the problems in the network, and investing in the necessary upgrades. To date, it has drawn down €1bn in borrowings to finance these works, on top of State money.

But based on bill payments to date, it's clear that many believe they have already paid for their water through general taxation and don't see the need to dip into their pockets.

Read More: Irish Water needs €300m to make up for loss of charges

The latest figures show the company received €18.3m in its last billing cycle, a 50pc drop from the previous quarter where €33.4m was paid over. Given the cynicism towards the entire water fiasco, there is no guarantee that any information campaign will change minds and convince people to pay.

How investment is funded is not just a matter for this Government, but for the one after that too. And while the shortfall will be made up for this year, it's not clear what will happen in 2017 and 2018.

The cost of not making the required investment will be profound. We all know the problems in the system. The next step is figuring out how to fund the €5.5bn investment programme needed to make the network fit for purpose and capable of providing clean and safe water.

Irish Independent

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