European Commission will wait to rule on Water Services Bill

With agreement reached by both parties, it looks certain that the Bill will not become law

The special committee’s recommendation was that water services be paid out of general taxation but that those households using more than 1.7 times the average household use would pay for the excess. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The special committee’s recommendation was that water services be paid out of general taxation but that those households using more than 1.7 times the average household use would pay for the excess. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The European Commission has said it will wait until the new Water Services Bill becomes law until making a final determination on whether it breaches the EU Water Framework Directive.

As the Bill went though Committee stage debate on Wednesday night, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted together to reject dozens of amendments tabled by other Opposition parties.

With the agreement reached by both parties during the special committee on the future of water charges still holding, it now looks certain that the Bill will not become law.

While over 50 amendments were tabled, Fianna Fáil tabled none and its housing spokesman Barry Cowen supported his Fine Gael counterpart, Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, throughout the hearing.

The only exception was an amendment put forward by Sinn Féin spokesman Eoin Ó Broin that Irish Water be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Mr Cowen indicated that he would support the amendment as it would copperfasten the status of Irish Water as a public-owned utility. However, Mr Murphy said that while he agreed with the sentiment he would reject the amendment on the basis of advice he received that this legislation was not the appropriate instrument for making that change. The amendment was not pressed by Mr Ó Broin who, however, said he wished to return to the question at Report stage.

The special committee’s recommendation was that water services be paid out of general taxation but that those households using more than 1.7 times the average household use would pay for the excess.

The EU’s Water Framework Directive gave Ireland a derogation from water charges as it was not established practice. However, that derogation was no longer applicable once water charges were introduced.

The Environment Commission has now to decide whether or not the withdrawal of water charges for all those except those households wantonly wasting water is tantamount to a breach of the directive.

A spokeswoman for the Commission said it had been following the process closely and is respecting the Irish legislative process.

“It is indicated that final adoption is scheduled for mid-November.

At that point the Commission will assess to ensure that any modifications to the system still comply with the EU Water Framework Directive,” said the spokeswoman.

Among the amendments made by Sinn Féin and by Solidarity-People Before Profit were for the abolition of Irish Water as a company within 12 months of the Bill coming into effect.

There was also a prolonged discussion on what constituted average household usage. The Bill indicates that it the per annum usage of a household of four people (133 cubic litres) multiplied by 1.7.

Mr Murphy insisted that the allowance would easily accommodate a family of eight where Mick Barry of the Socialist Party argued it would discriminate against families of four.