Friday 20 July 2018

Water: Rural water grant restored as charges suspended

while the Government will suspend the Water Conservation Grant paid to all households under the water charges regime, it will also restore exchequer funding for Group Water Schemes. Stock image
while the Government will suspend the Water Conservation Grant paid to all households under the water charges regime, it will also restore exchequer funding for Group Water Schemes. Stock image
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Hundreds of thousands of families who already pay for water in group schemes will see funding restored to pre-2015 levels as part of the deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

In February last year the subvention paid to private group water schemes that source their water from wells or lakes was reduced from €140 to €90.

But while the Government will suspend the Water Conservation Grant paid to all households under the water charges regime, it will also restore exchequer funding for Group Water Schemes.

Fine Gael will also implement multi-annual funding for the Rural Water Programmes and revise grant levels to new group water schemes and for the refurbishment of private wells.

The agreement between the two parties gives the Fine Gael government six weeks to introduce legislation to suspend water charges for everybody else.

The suspension period will last for nine months - but may be suspended if deemed necessary by a new Oireachtas committee on the Funding of Domestic Water Services.

The incoming Government will establish, within eight weeks, an Expert Commission to examine the future of water charges. The commission will then report back after a five-month period, the deal says.

Following that, the new Oireachtas committee will make its own recommendations within three months. The recommendations will be voted upon by the Dáil.

The document states: "The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties reserve their right to adopt differing positions on any consequent legislation or resolutions being debated by the Oireachtas."

This means that, in theory, charges could return in 2017 - but that would require this to form a recommendation of the commission and to be approved by the majority of the Dáil's 158 TDs.

The issue of refunds was raised by several TDs at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party - but Micheál Martin said people should be pursued for unpaid bills. "Those who have not paid have an obligation to pay," he said.

Mr Martin also hit out at acting Environment Minister Alan Kelly because the existing law means only bills over €500 can be chased through the courts. As water bills only began last year, nobody has a bill this high.

"Alan Kelly made big statements but Alan Kelly, through his own legislation, let a lot of people off the hook," he said.

Irish Independent

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