New system of fines 'is Trojan horse' for more water charges - TD claims
A new front in the battle over water charges looks set to open in the coming months as plans to charge for excessive use move a step closer.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will bring an update to Cabinet today on plans to introduce a system of fines for people who consistently use water excessively.
However, some Opposition parties have already hit out at the move, with Solidarity TD Paul Murphy claiming the plans are "a Trojan horse for future water charges".
A series of fines outlined by the Commission for Energy Regulation will go out to public consultation before being introduced in 2020.
An allowance of some 213,000 litres per household is available for homes with up to four adults - some 1.7 times above the average usage per household.
Various estimates have suggested some 80,000 households use water beyond the limits set out.
The decision to charge for excessive use was made when water charges were abandoned and in order to avoid Ireland being hit by EU fines.
A source defended the move, saying it was not about raising revenue but changing habits, noting that anyone who breaches usage caps will be given time to change their habits before they are fined.
"This is about targeting the 7pc of the population who use 30pc of our water," they said.
It is expected the fine will be capped at €260 for those who do not stay within the limit.
The proposed regime is in line with what was proposed by an all-party Oireachtas committee on water, a source close to the minister stressed.
However, Paul Murphy said the fact that excessive water charges won't be introduced this year as was initially planned showed "the Government continues to be very worried - and rightly so - about the opposition that would exist to this".
He told Newstalk radio that proof of the potential for future charges is in the legislation itself. He said it provides for the Government - not the Dáil - to reduce the allowance over time.
The Solidarity TD said the calculation for excessive use could have been set in stone.
"The fact that it's not, the fact that they can reduce that over time themselves with no recourse back to the Dáil, in my opinion is an indication that they would like to use it in this way [to bring in a wider charging regime]," he said.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on water, Eoin Ó Broin, said the introduction of a charging regime for so-called excessive water use is "expensive and unnecessary". He added that the resumption of a charge is the thin end of wedge as far as domestic water charges are concerned.
Irish Water has estimated that it will raise €39m over the next five years from excessive usage charges.