Taoiseach rebuffs queries on water charges

 

TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny has refused to be drawn on what the allocation of free water might be to customers when water metering is introduced.

But he has not excluded the possibility of customers who fail to pay bills to the new national water board having their supply cut off.

On a day of heated exchanges between the Government and Opposition parties on the issue in the Dáil and on the airwaves, Mr Kenny likened the situation of Irish Water to that of electricity and phone providers, who disconnect customers who do not pay.

The Taoiseach refused to be drawn on any specific details on water charges and on whether the creation of Irish Water would lead to job losses in water divisions of local authorities.

Challenged by the Opposition to provide details, he said such decisions would be made in due course. He said the Government had made decisions on two issues: that there would be no upfront charges and no bills until 2014.

Asked later yesterday to clarify his comments at a function in Dublin about cutting off customers who refused to pay, he said: “All public utilities have in place a regime to deal with people who have difficulty [in paying].”

“Obviously, in this case, where water is involved, the Government will make the decision in respect of the amount of water to be allowed for free before any charge will apply.

“It’s very important that people understand that good and careful and prudent use of water . . . should not result in anybody having to get into difficulty”.

Asked what the free allocation of water would be, once the standing charge was paid, he said: “I’m not going to make any comment about the decision that the Government will make in respect of the amount of water to be allocated . . . for everybody. That’s a matter that the Government will decide on in due course.”

Separately, Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd said the cost of each water meter would be about €160, although groundwork to install boundary boxes and transmitters would constitute the bulk of the cost to householders.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was “surprised and angry” at the Taoiseach’s inability to give any detail. He also challenged the Taoiseach’s assertion that there would be no job losses.

“This morning . . . the Taoiseach said that there will be no job losses. It is especially suspicious, given that the PwC consultants report [states] that the number of people employed will be significantly lower than the 4,278 deployed today,” said Mr Martin.

Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald criticised any decision that would allow Irish Water to cut off supply to those who failed to pay.

Richard Boyd-Barrett of People Before Profit challenged the Government contention that the new company would not be privatised. He said that argument was dishonest or based on ignorance of EU rules on competition. The trade union Impact said the setting up of Irish Water represented “a significant threat that water could be privatised in the future”.