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Water bills could rise to €600 a year as Leo says sorry

FAMILIES will be paying an average of €600 a year in water charges, a leading economist said today.

The assessment came as Transport Minister Leo Varadkar apologised for the way the issue had been communicated to the public.

Former Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) economist Richard Tol said households would be charged a €40 a year standing charge and €560 in usage fees "if the Government has its way".



Austerity

Mr Tol, who is now a professor of economics with Sussex University, was heavily critical of the plans.

He pointed to a series of stumbling blocks, suggesting the proposals had not been thought out.

Prof Tol said if households were to install water meters privately it would cost €200 per home but, "because of the way the Government is going about it", the price will be €800.

He described the sum as "quite excessive" in a time of austerity. If the Government offers a free allowance to householders, every litre of water used above the amount will have to be more expensive, Prof Tol added.

He said the new semi-State Irish Water would not know how many people are living in each household.

It means that small households will be getting water for free while larger families will be paying, he added.

Prof Tol pointed to the logistical difficulties in transferring the water departments of the country's 34 local authorities into the new body. "Irish Water will be four times as big as Bord Gais is now," he said.

The Government has admitted up to one-in-five homeowners will be paying flat-rate fees because of the difficulty in installing a meter.

Mr Varadkar said the mainly older houses and apartments would not be charged by usage but would have to pay a set levy.

"There will be about 20pc of houses and apartments that won't be able to be metered in the normal way.

"What they do in other countries is that they estimate the charges based on the size of the house and the number of people in it. But that is something that will have to be worked out at a later stage," he said.

He acknowledged there had been confusion over the issue.

"I apologise for that. I know the people are struggling with bills at the moment and that the cost of living is increasing, and certainly nobody in the Government wants to scare people about charges that, let's face it, are not going to come into play for over two years," he said.

Anger in the Labour party at the way Environment Minister Phil Hogan has handled the issue has grown.

Labour TDs fear they will be "mauled" at the next election if Mr Hogan is responsible for introducing water charges, the Herald can reveal.

There is now growing unrest among Labour deputies that the new tax will "explode" -- becoming even a more divisive issue than the household charge.

The fears were compounded by the latest opinion poll which shows Labour now straggling on just 13pc -- a 6pc drop on the previous poll.

The party is becoming increasingly agitated with Mr Hogan following recent fiascos.

One Labour TD has broken ranks to claim that the embattled Environment minister is unfit for the job.

Clare TD Michael McNamara launched a scathing attack of his handling of the €100 charge.

"If the minister continues in the same bungling manner over the water charges, it raises questions about his suitability for office," he said.

hnews@herald.ie


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