Friday 19 January 2018

Editorial: Treading water is no reason for cheer, Labour

It's predicted that one in five households won't pay their water charges when the first bills land in January
It's predicted that one in five households won't pay their water charges when the first bills land in January

So, what was all that about, one must wonder? The Labour Party grandstanding over water charges for several weeks might have salved its conscience, but it has yielded precious little by way of any changes to the legislation as it was unveiled yesterday. The junior wing of the Coalition may argue that the 'standing charge' has gone, which in itself may or may not be a good thing; but as this charge has simply been subsumed into the annual cost, it hardly merits any kind of victory celebration. Indeed, the only benefit is to make water more expensive for the majority of homeowners.

The fact is that ever since the troika arrived in Ireland with a brief to broaden the State's tax base, water charges, a feature of almost every developed country, were going to be introduced. Water charges have a double-edged benefit for the State – they raise a great deal of revenue from something that everybody uses and they make people conserve a valuable resource because it is now in their interest to do so. To argue, as various protest groups have, that water is somehow "free" is simply nonsense. It costs a great deal of money to harvest, treat and deliver drinkable water from a reservoir to the tap. As people in Roscommon, Galway and other locations have discovered, drinking water is a valuable commodity and one we should cherish.

For too long, either because it is free or because we didn't bother to think about it, water has been taken for granted. The result is that there was under-investment in infrastructure, in water quality and water harvesting. More disturbing, huge losses of water from underground mains, an estimated 40pc of the total supply, was allowed to continue. Under the auspices of Irish Water it is to be hoped that all this will change.

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