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You'll still be able to beat the water meter


A garda tries to restrain a protester at the Mansion House yesterday where Taoiseach Enda Kenny was heckled

A garda tries to restrain a protester at the Mansion House yesterday where Taoiseach Enda Kenny was heckled

A garda tries to restrain a protester at the Mansion House yesterday where Taoiseach Enda Kenny was heckled

Families will still be able to reduce their water charges if they have a meter, even with the new simplified system of bills that will be capped at a maximum amount.

The Government is to unveil a new water charges plan this week in the wake of heightened tensions following the violent scenes when Tanaiste Joan Burton was confronted by demonstrators.

The Coalition will announce two new maximum rates of water charges on Wednesday - roughly €80 for a one-adult household and about €180 for all other households.

These capped figures take account of a €100 reduction in the bill through a payment from the Government to all households. But homes with a meter installed will still be able to reduce bills further if the value of water used is lower than than the cap.

"The cap is a 'no-more-than' figure, but people can still use the meter to beat that figure," a Government source said.

All households who register with Irish Water will be able to claim a €100 payment, known as a Water Support Services Grant.

This grant will not be means-tested, so every household will qualify.

Irish Water will no longer be allowed to collect PPS numbers.

Families who want to avail of a metered bill will simply declare how many children are living in the home under an "honour system" to get a free allowance included in the calculation of the bill.

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"PPS numbers are gone for Irish Water. You'll use an honour system for the child's free allowance. Trust the people. PPS numbers will only be needed for the €100 grant from social welfare - not for dealing with Irish Water. And the Department of Social Protection already issues those numbers," a Government source said.

Government officials say there will still be an "absolute imperative" for conserving water through metering.

"There will be a desire to show the metering system is efficient and effective," a source said.

The new charges regime comes after anti-water charge demonstrations in Dublin. The Tanaiste and Anti-Austerity Alliance TD, Paul Murphy, yesterday disagreed about the incident, which saw Ms Burton blocked in for two hours after attending an official event.

Mr Murphy accused the Tanaiste of "demonising" protesters, while the Tanaiste said Mr Murphy failed to help exercise control. Independent Senator Katherine Zappone, who witnessed the scenes, said the demonstrators went beyond peaceful protest.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar urged Mr Murphy's party colleagues to distance themselves from the violence and intimidation.

Mr Varadkar called on his constituency colleagues Joe Higgins and Ruth Coppinger to publicly disassociate themselves from the intimidation witnessed at Saturday's Jobstown protest.

"The protest in Jobstown saw behaviour of the worst kind. There are reports of intimidation, aggression, sexist remarks and abuse of the gardai, who were trying to keep the peace. Essentially, a happy graduation day was hijacked."

Senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure, Environment and Communications are close to finalising the new charges regime. It will be cleared by Cabinet and launched on Wednesday, with a full Dail debate expected on Wednesday afternoon.

The new regime follows months of internal dispute between the Fine Gael and Labour parties in government. It also follows a huge public backlash, with major demonstrations drawing some 100,000 people on to Dublin streets on October 10, and 150,000 people demonstrating at 100 venues countrywide on November 1. Ms Burton yesterday hinted that the charges would be capped for roughly three years.

She said she was confident water charges would be capped "for a very significant period of time".

Ms Burton also said that her experience as an accountant told her that the time frame to establish Irish Water had been too short and was over-ambitious.

"This is all potentially great stuff for everybody, but you can't do it within this time-frame. It really has to be rolled out," the Tanaiste told 'The Marian Finucane Show' on RTE radio yesterday.

Government sources last night said they were confident that the new regime would not impair Irish Water's status as a semi-state firm capable of borrowing without adding to the national debt. Some €10bn is required to ensure that Ireland's creaking and leaking water system is upgraded to an acceptable level.

The bulk of the work has been done by the "cabinet within a cabinet", the so-called Economic Management Council. This usually comprises the Taoiseach and Tanaiste as well as the two ministers responsible for finance, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Communications Minister Alex White have also been involved. But Mr Kenny has already assured Fine Gael TDs and senators that the final sign-off on the charges package will be done by all 15 Cabinet ministers and a special meeting on the issue may be held.

Labour will undoubtedly claim an internal victory, as almost two weeks ago, Ms Burton said she believed an average family of four would pay less than €200 per year. But the bigger battle will be winning public confidence.