Less than half pay up for water but Minister insists it’s a ‘solid start’

Environment Minister Alan Kelly with Irish Water chief John Tierney face the media

Paul Melia

IRISH Water and the Minister for Environment said that even though less than half of all Irish Water customers have paid their bills, it is a “solid start”.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly said that he is “extremely satisfied” despite just 675,000 of households – or 46pc – having paid bills.

Bizarrely, people who have registered for Irish Water but do not pay, will still receive the €100 conservation grant.

The grant was the carrot the Government was using in a bid to get people to sign up to the utility.

For those who registered by June, it was worth €100. Those who did not sign up will be hit with a full bill for €260.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed that homeowners could receive the grant, even without paying.

“If they have registered they will get the water conservation grant. This is why we were looking to drive registration,” he told Newstalk.

He added that he thinks it “extremely unlikely that people would be registering with Irish Water in the first place and not paying”.

Irish Water had expected to collect just under €67m from domestic customers in the first billing cycle, which covered the period January to March.

But the utility collected €30.5m from the bills issued.

Reacting to the figures, Renua leader Lucinda Creighton said: “This company is now more dead than the parrot in Monty Python. It does not have the confidence of consumers or of the political class.

“The Taoiseach and Minister Alan Kelly must now go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.”

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy predicted the level of non-payment would grow and described the figures as an “unmitigated disaster”.

However, Minister Kelly said that it represents “an encouraging start to a long term project with in excess of €30m coming in immediately following the first billing period”.

“This now means that a significant income stream has now been established and that funding can be converted into borrowing,” he added.

The new system imposed an annual cap on bills – ranging from €160 for a single-adult household to €260 for families with two or more adults. Children are free.

Government sources insisted that Irish Water was sufficiently funded for the near future, and that payment levels to date were a “decent start”.

The low payment rates will place severe pressure on the Coalition in the run-up to the general election, with the issue of water charges expected to take centre stage.

It has dominated the political agenda for well over a year now and it is  expected that the figures will also force Irish Water to engage with registered customers in an effort to improve payment rates.

However, Ms Creighton slammed the Taoiseach for the poor figures.

“We see now why Enda

Kenny has been ducking and diving on this issue for two months in the Dail.

“This is a home-grown crisis, they can’t use the FF-dog-ate-my-homework excuse. Mr Kenny needs to learn playing ducks and drakes with the provision of information is not an adequate form of governance.

“Once again, compliant taxpayers are the victims in this. Government incompetence means those who pay are

carrying the load.”