The Question: Will the Irish ever accept water meters?

Historians will one day wonder why it was the provision of water services that spurred revolt

Water meter: the ill-fated installation programme  installed meters at 873,000 households. Photograph: Alan Betson

Water meter: the ill-fated installation programme installed meters at 873,000 households. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Expert Commission on Domestic Public Water Services report finally arrived this week, and the big takeaway was clear: while consigning the toxic utility known as Irish Water to the dustbin of history, the State will need to devise a mechanism for charging for excessive water use. It will be up to the Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh and his cross-party committee to examine the report and come up with recommendations for the Oireachtas next March.

Average water usage, the commission suggests, should be paid for out of general taxation, but excessive use should be charged for separately. Nothing unreasonable there, as such charges are the only way to curb wasteful use of water. But, whatever calculation is used to determine average usage, the only way to determine “above-average” usage effectively is through meters.

While the report tiptoes around the water-meter issue, that poses a problem. The report points out that the ill-fated installation programme that came to an end last summer had installed meters at 873,000 households.

As Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee put it: “There are still some 500,000 homes without meters. Even at a conservative estimate, it would cost at least a further €300 million to fit meters in all of them.”

Future historians will probably be a little mystified that it was the provision of water services, of all things, that convulsed the usually passive people of Ireland into passionate resistance. The water-meter installers were at the front line, stormtroopers imposing the will of an over-reaching empire in the view of anti-water-charge protesters.

That the meters were being installed by a subsidiary of Siteserv, already the focus of controversy, didn’t help matters.

Which leaves us at a difficult juncture: given the lack of trust over the matter, an already sceptical public is unlikely to believe that a further €300 million could be spent installing meters except as a precursor to the return of water charges in the future.

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