It emerged this week that less than half of the water charge payments due in Irish Water’s first billing cycle were paid. The company collected €30.5 million in just three months when full compliance would have netted €66.8 million.
The company put a brave face on the numbers. Head of communications Elizabeth Arnett described the compliance rate of 43 per cent as "a solid start". Some might say she was clutching at straws when she said "675,000 households are now paying water charges, meaning that nearly two million people are living in homes that pay for water services supplied by Irish Water".
That may be the case, but it is also the case that more than two million are not. It doesn’t help that Irish Water couldn’t collect direct debits of more than 3,000 people willing to pay after botching the billing process.
Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Mary Lou MacDonald and their disparate cohorts of revolutionaries suggested the 57 per cent who failed to pay were part of a widespread protest movement which will shake the State to its core.
Murphy described the rate of nonpayment as an "unmitigated disaster", while Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen said the figures were "yet another nail in the coffin of Irish Water's credibility".
This is little more than political opportunism. The charge is new, and people are always slow to modify their behaviour, particularly if modification requires them to pay for something that once flowed freely (or at least was paid for out of general taxes – we have always paid for our water, lest we forget).
In 2012, a household charge of €100 was introduced. In the early days there was widespread nonpayment. That was attributed to consumer apathy, rather than revolt. People had to make an effort to pay so many did nothing.
The charge morphed into the local property tax and Revenue was given the job of collecting it. Compliance then rocketed, partly out of fear of the tax man and partly because people are more used to paying taxes than household charges.
Payments will also be slow because Irish Water has no stick to threaten us with – it can’t force anyone to pay by threatening disconnection.
It has also yet to send reminders. And people will need reminding, particularly when the charge is as new and as unpopular as this one.