Water wasters to be fined after six months warning
Water wasters will escape penalties entirely if they can produce evidence within six months that they have taken the necessary steps to restrict their usage.
The introduction of a warning system for those found to be wasting water has been tabled in a bid to prevent a flurry of cases being brought before the courts.
The "grace period" of at least six months may even be extended if water wasters can convince Irish Water they are not responsible for large-scale leakages on their properties.
In a draft report circulated to the Oireachtas water committee, chairman senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh said any charge for so-called 'excessive usage' should be rolled-out in a similar way to the levy on plastic bags.
"Users who would otherwise be liable to an excessive usage charge will be provided with a grace period of at least two quarters to reduce leakage below the appropriate threshold," the report said.
"This grace period may be extended in certain circumstances with the approval of Irish Water," it said.
Sources in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael last night said they are favourable towards establishing a warning system.
The proposal means few households will ever end up being penalised for so-called 'excessive usage'.
Its details emerged as Housing Minister Simon Coveney gave his clearest indication yet he is prepared to overhaul a 2007 piece of legislation to ensure Ireland meets its EU requirements in relation to excessive usage.
A spokesperson for the minister said, however, there would need to be "fundamental changes" to the law in order to ensure Ireland meets its EU requirements.
The act provides for a €5,000 fine and/or a three-month prison sentence for offenders.
But the news of the six-month reprieve means such penalties are unlikely to be enforced.
Mr Coveney has also given the backing to a request from the committee to extend its deadline for the final water report by four weeks to April 14.
This means the Dáil is likely to vote to scrap water charges in early May, when the country could potentially have a new Taoiseach.
The 33-page report, compiled by committee chairman and senator Mr Ó Céidigh, indicates that compromise is being reached in a number of key areas.
All parties except Fine Gael clearly state their preference for the one million households that have paid their bills to get a refund. The report details that Fine Gael still favours the idea of chasing householders which haven't paid.
But the party accepts this approach creates the prospect of administrative costs.
Differences still remain within the committee, with some parties expressing their opposition to the continuation of the metering programme.
Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell - a member of the committee - said she hopes it doesn't take too long for the committee to reach a compromise.
"There's no reason to end all the work we've done over the last 10 weeks right now and have no solution," Ms O'Connell said.