Howlin fails to assuage group water payers


THE Minister for the Environment could be forgiven for thinking he was the bearer of good news last week, when he announced that local authorities would no longer charge for supplying water to group water schemes.

Not so, according to the manager of Comharchumann Shailearna in west Galway, Mr Gearoid de Faoite. He says Mr Howlin's £18 million package does not go nearly far enough to address a situation people in rural areas have put up with for over two decades.

He adds that the plan to use motor tax to pay for local services, including water, will spark a huge protest campaign in the west. The opening shots in the campaign will be fired off at a meeting of group scheme organisers in Tuam on Thursday.

Mr de Faoite says only about half of the 150,000 households who get their water from group schemes will benefit from Mr Howlin's changes. The rest, who get their water from small lakes or springs and not from local authority sources, will have to pay up as usual.

Worse, those who benefit from the abolition of charges will still be asked to pay maintenance fees. In many cases they will simply refuse to do so, he says, creating potentially serious health risks as money runs out for proper maintenance.

They will point at their car tax discs and ask why they should subsidise "free" water for urban dwellers, through their car tax, when they still have to pay extra for their own water.

He says Mr Howlin has underestimated the depth of feeling on the issue. The £5 million promised this year to enable local authorities take over group schemes would barely cover even Co Galway, he adds.

"There is no time limit on the taking over of the group schemes, and it could take years. Bear in mind that some of these schemes are in operation for 20 years and the original plan was to take them over. Does the Minister expect us to wait 20 years more?" He dismisses last week's announcement as a pre election gambit to shelve a potentially damaging controversy. "The Minister hoped that this would be accepted by people in the rural community, and that we wouldn't have copped on until after the next election," he says.

"The western TDs have displayed a complete lack of understanding of their brief, if they didn't see the implications for rural communities. If they come around seeking votes in group scheme areas I think they'll get an earful."