Coalition sources believe Irish Water change needed before poll

Linking of grant to water charge payment unlikely until next year at the earliest

Protesters at one of the many anti-water charge demonstrations since the levy was announced. Photograph: The Irish Times

Protesters at one of the many anti-water charge demonstrations since the levy was announced. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Senior Coalition figures believe changes will have to be made to the structure of water charges to help “draw a line” under controversies surrounding Irish Water and provide Fine Gael and Labour with a consistent position going into the general election.

The Irish Times reported this week the €100 water conservation grant available to everyone who registered with Irish Water would only be provided to people who actually paid their bills under new measures being considered by the Government.

It is understood linking the €100 grant to bill payment has been discussed at senior levels in Government but there is no definite timeframe.

However, any changes would not be until 2016 at the earliest since the €100 grant in respect of 2015 will be paid from next month.

People only have to register their details with Irish Water to qualify for the €100 water conservation grant from the Department of Social Protection, and do not have to prove they have paid their water bills.

Grant system

The Opposition yesterday accused the Coalition of presiding over a “farce” and being at “sixes and sevens” on the issue after it was claimed by some in Labour that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had earlier overruled Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly on linking the grant to bill payment.

However, it was claimed this was prior to Eurostat ruling Irish Water should stay on the State balance sheet. The ruling by the EU statistics agency that the semi-State remain on balance sheet, however, has provided the Coalition with leeway to make changes and has forced them to take a longer-term approach to Irish Water.

Sources said the existing water charges caps of €260 per family and €160 for a single adult home will apply for “considerably longer” than the initial timeframe of 2019, and are likely to be in place for at least a decade.

The cost of water charges drops to €160 for a family and €60 for an individual when the grant is included. Irish Water will also be tasked with significantly reducing its cost base.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen has said the Government’s stance on water charges has “become absolutely farcical”.

Total farce

Kelly

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis said the Coalition was “at sixes and sevens” over the conservation grant.

The Dublin North West deputy said Irish Water was not the correct choice for the supply of water in Ireland. “The government have scrambled from crisis to crisis with Irish Water and it now emerges that the coalition are not even on the same page when it comes to how the conservation grant is to be paid out.”

Mr Ellis said Sinn Féin was committed to abolishing Irish Water and delivering a public utility if elected to government.

“There must be a single public utility for the supply of clean, fresh, drinking water for every home in the country, free of domestic water charges.”