Water fees and reliefs to be set next week
Environment Minister Phil Hogan has said that the Government will agree next week on the reliefs that will be offered to families on low incomes ahead of the first payment of the water charges.
Mr Hogan said that all outstanding issues, including the setting of a tariff, will be decided within 10 days.
He said: "The Taoiseach and the Government are going to be honest with the Irish people in the run-up to the first electoral contest on May 23.
"It is the first contest we've had since the last general election and there will be decisions next week in relation to how much people will be charged, the manner in which people will be charged and the reliefs that are going to be on offer."
The minister's remarks come on the back of tensions between Fine Gael and Labour over the manner in which the introduction of the tax is being handled.
But Mr Hogan said negotiations were continuing and that issues such as the tariff and the extra relief for hard-pressed families would be ironed out by the end of next week.
However, a Labour spokeswoman insisted last night that "nothing has been finalised" in relation to the issues of relief and the tariff.
"The matter will be discussed at cabinet again next week but no decision has yet been made," she told the Irish Independent.
Mr Hogan also said that he was keen to ensure that Irish Water does not become an entity that "will be bulging with additional staff".
He said that voluntary packages would be made available, to those staff – believed to be in the region of 1,100 – who wish to leave over the next three years.
Some €39m is being set aside by the Government to cater for the redundancies.
Earlier this year, ESRI economist John Fitzgerald warned that families would face higher water charges as Irish Water was being forced to employ double the number of staff required.
But Mr Hogan said that local authorities would ensure that there would be no "bulging" of staff.
"The regulator will be looking at the establishment costs and the necessary numbers of people that are required to run an entity like Irish Water," Mr Hogan said.
"And the Government is responding to that by giving an opportunity to local authorities to see what are the levels of staff requirements that are required as part of Irish Water in order to deliver effectively for the consumer.
"And we will need no more or no less than the prescribed number of people. We're not setting up an entity that will be bulging with additional staff.
"If people want to take a voluntary retirement package, they'll be able to do so. But equally, they'll be able to transfer to other duties if they're not needed for water duties."
However, Fianna Fail last night claimed that Irish Water was being given additional money to ensure that workers "simply go away".
The party's environment spokesperson, Barry Cowen, said: "As sure as night follows day, the next step will be to hire external consultants to replace the departing knowledge."