European Commission expresses ‘concerns’ about Irish water charges

Commission seeks update on Irish water management, infrastructure improvements

The Government had planned to address the fact that 8% of households use 30% of the water supply. Photograph: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek/Getty Images

The Government had planned to address the fact that 8% of households use 30% of the water supply. Photograph: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek/Getty Images

 

The European Commission has expressed “concerns” about Ireland’s water charging regime and has raised questions about the funding of water infrastructure, it has emerged.

The commission’s director general for environment, Daniel Calleja, wrote to Irish ambassador Joe Hackett in February outlining a number of concerns about Ireland’s domestic water charges regime.

He also asked the Government what measures it planned to take to address the small number of people who use the most water.

The issue of water charges was a prominent feature of the confidence-and-supply negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in 2016. Fine Gael had previously warned that Ireland will be exposed to enforcement proceedings from the EU if it abolishes water charges permanently.

In a compromise between the parties, it was agreed that households using water above a fixed threshold would be charged for excess use. That threshold was 1.7 times the average household use of 345 litres a day.

Water infrastructure

In his letter, seen by The Irish Times, Mr Calleja said he wanted to follow up discussions that were ongoing between the commission and Irish authorities “with regard to domestic water pricing policies in Ireland”.

He said the European Commission had issued a “letter of formal notice” in January of this year which raised “concerns about the transposition of the water framework”.

“In this letter you will have noted that we did not formally return to the issue of the implementation of article 9 of the directive in relation to domestic water charges.

“This was in response to the commitments made in the last couple of years by the relevant Irish authorities and public entities that the necessary investments and measures to improve the management of water resources in Ireland will be made or respectively taken,” he wrote.

Mr Calleja said that “my services and myself remain concerned about the continued implementation of these provisions”.

He noted that Ireland is in the implementation phase of new domestic water charging policies, but asked for authorities to provide “integrated and detailed information about your domestic water management policy”.

The EU has also sought information around the funding of Ireland’s water infrastructure including for “the much needed upgrade of Ireland’s wastewater infrastructure and drinking waster supplies”.

Mr Calleja also asked for information on how the Government planned to address the fact that “8 per cent of households ... currently use 30 per cent of the water supply”.