Thursday 22 February 2018

It's finally over as Dáil votes to end water charges regime

Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Work is to begin immediately after the Easter break on legislation that will formally end water charges after the Dáil voted 96 to 47 in favour of their abolition.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance were backed by Noel Grealish, Dr Michael Harty and Michael Lowry in ensuring the final report of the water committee passed.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has now given a commitment to prioritise legislation that will finally end the six-year debate over the funding of water.

The move creates a significant headache for the Government which must now come up with Exchequer funds to underpin Irish Water's operation.

Junior Housing Minister Damien English told the Seanad last night that politicians "need to grasp the nettle and move on with a system that responds to the various viewpoints while delivering a water service infrastructure that meets the needs of our society and our growing economy".

But anti-water charges TD Paul Murphy said the Government was still trying to enforce "the commodification of water".

Speaking on Independent.ie's 'Floating Voter' podcast, Mr Murphy said households should investigate ways of removing meters from outside their homes.

He accepted this would be against the law, but said it was a way of guaranteeing you cannot receive a bill in the future.

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"People shouldn't tamper with the water meters, they shouldn't destroy them. They should post them to Irish Water if they want or post them to Barry Cowen," he said.

The Solidarity TD said that despite the end of water bills for 92pc of households, his campaign would continue.

He argued the threshold for 'excessive usage' as defined in the water committee's report could be lowered in the future.

In the new legislation Mr Coveney will note that average daily consumption of water is 133 litres per person. In order to be "levied" for wastage a person must use 1.7 times this amount.

Mr Murphy said he could prepare to see a "swimming pool tax", adding that there are around 2,000 private pools in Ireland.

Major questions also remain about how the Government and Irish Water will manage a refund scheme.

It is understood officials will investigate the possibility of issuing tax credits, attaching refunds to social welfare payments or simply sending refunds directly to bill payers.

The maximum possible payment made by a family during the ill-fated charging regime is €365.

However, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe indicated that it could be some time before refunds are given out.

"This is a matter that will have to be dealt with in the coming period. We'll have to pass the legislation in relation to this whole issue first - as that is happening I expect it will lay out a pathway for dealing with that issue," he said on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke'.

Irish Independent

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