Sunday 22 September 2019

Privatisation of water services the 'most commonly expressed concern' as water committee hold first meeting

Kevin Duffy Photo: Doug O’Connor
Kevin Duffy Photo: Doug O’Connor
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

An Oireachtas Committee has been told that the feared privatisation of water services was the issue raised most often in submissions an Expert Commission examining charges.

TDs and Senators examining the future funding of domestic water services held their first meeting this afternoon.

Kevin Duffy, the chairman of the Expert Commission whose report the politicians will deliberate on, appeared to lay out his group's recommendations.

Mr Duffy said the "most commonly expressed concern" among those who contributed to his Commission's consultation process was the feared privatisation of Irish Water at some time in the future.

"Many of those who opposed water charges and metering focused their opposition on what they regarded as the commodification of water and the potential that this creates for the eventual sale of the water utility," he said.

Mr Duffy added that this concern was not confined to those opposed to water charges.

He said there was general support for the establishment of a central authority to manage and deliver public water services.

But he said some "expressed the view that the reputation of Irish Water had been irreparably damaged by such matters as the excessive spending on consultancy and public relations, and that a new or different type of body could achieve more public support."

Mr Duffy reminded TDs and Senators of his Commission's recommendations in relation to the future funding of domestic water services, that the cost should be met through general taxation but that excessive or wasteful use should be paid for by the user.

The Commission didn't consider it possible to determine the level of usage deemed wasteful because it didn't have the necessary data. Mr Duffy said the Commission for Energy Regulation should be assigned to that task if the principle is accepted.

"The group did not consider it possible – we didn’t have the data available to us - to determine the level of usage that would be necessary to meet the normal domestic and personal needs of citizens. Rather, if this principle is accepted, the CER should be assigned that task, which should be undertaken as part of an open and transparent process involving the Public Water Forum."

Mr Duffy laid out details of the levels of funding that may be needed to provide water services in the coming years.

He said that there is an investment target of €5.5m in the next four years "to bring water services to an acceptable level".

He said: "It is quite likely that significant ongoing investment will be required beyond 2021."

Irish Water identified a requirement of €13bn to meet good infrastructure and service standards, he added.

He said that NewEra - the New Economy and Recovery Authority - has prepared a report for Government on funding options for Irish Water but it was not available to the Expert Commission at the time it was reporting.

The report examines matters such as the financial cost of external borrowing versus the provision of funds from central government sources, he said.

"The Commission can't offer a 'definitive opinion' on the the type of funding regime required to comply with the European law governing water charging," Mr Duffy told the politicians.

But he said the approach his group recommends respects the "polluter pays principle" and that it's the Commission's opinion that it can be argued that its proposal would achieve the objective of the European Water Framework Directive.

He concluded his statement by wishing TDs and Senators well on their deliberations.

The Oireachtas committee will take three months to examine the issue of funding for water services.

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