Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he has met “too many people” with inadequate water services on the campaign trail and insisted the Government will make an announcement on the rate for water charges prior to the local and European elections.
Mr Kenny was speaking in Cork, where he was heckled by a small number of anti-water-charge protesters on the South Mall as he launched the Ireland South Euro campaign of Cork-based Senator Deirdre Clune.
“We really have a chance of two seats in this four-seat Euro constituency, one of which will be Deirdre Clune, and I’m very happy to come here and endorse her campaign,” he said.
Fair and equitable
On the water charges, he said the reason the Government had not yet confirmed a rate was that it was anxious to ensure the charge was fair and equitable for all water users.
“The average meter charge on an annual basis will be approximately €240 – that’s €60 per quarter,” he said. “The reason we have to do it is to bring up the infrastructure to the proper standard.
“I have met too many people who are living with boiled water notices. I have met too many people with an inferior infrastructure.
“I have met too many people where the treatment works and supply are not what they should be.
“And we will never be able to deal with this unless we have an entity that can borrow money separately from the Government, that can invest in fixing all these problems in providing a platform for the next 50 years for high-quality, high-volume affordable water.”
Mr Kenny said the Government was conscious of the need to strike a fair rate for vulnerable people such as the elderly living on their own or families with large numbers of children. He also said they were conscious of taking into account the needs of people with particular illnesses or conditions requiring them to be able to access large volumes of water.
Asked whether he thought people might be more willing to pay for a water charge after the Government invested in improving the infrastructure and supply, Mr Kenny said that was not an option.
“Go and talk to the 20,000 people in Roscommon,” he said. “Go and talk to the people who are living at risk in Dublin and in Cork in terms of quality water – we need to get this right now.”
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, meanwhile, stressed the importance of getting the arrangements surrounding water charges right – as they could apply for up to 20 years.
The Labour Party leader said progress had been made on the issue this week and that the Cabinet was edging “closer” to an agreement.
“We’re anxious to get this done as quickly as possible, but we also need to get it right because what we put in place is an arrangement which will last probably for the next two decades,” Mr Gilmore said.
Role of conservation
Asked whether the Government would consider a cap or price freeze on the water charge, Mr Gilmore said the Coalition was looking at how the charge for individual households could be reduced. He said water conservation would be an important factor in doing this.
“That’s why we have been putting such an emphasis on having a charging regime based on a formula where there will be a free allowance and then charges based on metering,” he said.
“What we’re looking at really are ways the individual family and individual householder can reduce their bill,” he added.
The comments came after Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen accused the Government of “kicking the issue down the road”.