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Levy may just be too tempting for Lenihan

Something has to give. With the people of Dublin using up more water than nature can provide, the political pressure for some kind of new charge is becoming irresistible. Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke has described the proposal to pump fresh supplies from the Shannon as "a rape of our water" -- but the reality is that, sooner or later, it's the taxpayer who's likely to get screwed.

The figures are stark. Dublin currently uses up an incredible 540 million litres of H2O a day, but our treatment plants can only generate 518 million. The new scheme to seek a top-up from the West is likely to be endorsed by councillors next week, but it will cost around €500m -- and, right now, that's money the Government doesn't have.

That's why the Taoiseach has ominously refused to rule out the introduction of water charges in December's Budget, despite the insistence of Green Party leader John Gormley that he only wants them when meters have been installed in every house in the country.

As even the Minister for the Environment admits, that process will take at least three years to complete. Brian Lenihan (below), on the other hand, needs the cash now -- which makes an interim flat-rate charge of around €175 look like a very attractive proposition.

As virtually the only country in Europe without a water tax, it will come as a huge culture shock to most Irish people when we have to stump up a few cent every time we take a bath or stick on the washing machine.

The softening-up process has clearly begun -- and this is one Government initiative that's unlikely to be watered down.

-- Andrew Lynch