Irish Water will pass EU test as more people pay, Minister claims

Paudie Coffey says failure of utility to pass test was down to a ‘marginal decision’

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Irish Water will pass the Eurostat test next year, allowing it to be taken off the State’s books, because the number of people paying water charges will increase, the Government has claimed.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey said the EU statistics agency announcement on Tuesday that Irish Water had failed the market corporation test was “quite a marginal decision”.

Mr Coffey said the ruling will be reviewed in about a year and at that point “I am very confident” Irish Water will pass.

On Tuesday Eurostat said the utility company was an entity considerably controlled by Government and should be classified as such. It also noted that 48 per cent of its revenues were commercially raised, below the 50 per cent threshold set by Eurostat.

Mr Coffey said the Irish Central Statistics Office had taken a different view.

The Central Statistics Office claims Eurostat exaggerated the role of local authorities in its findings and did not consider the Commission for Energy Regulation’s influence in determining the price paid for water.

The CSO alleged there were a number of factual inaccuracies in the Eurostat report.

In a letter, it claims Eurostat “exaggerated” the role of local authorities in its findings and did not consider the Commission for Energy Regulation’s influence in determining the price paid for water.

Asked on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland how Irish Water would pass the market corporation test next year, Mr Coffey claimed the number of people paying their water bills is increasing so the company “will pass in due time”. He was unable to provide evidence to support that assertion.

Earlier this month figures revealed the number of households that have paid their water charge is 675,000 out of 1.5 million, or around 43 per cent.

Eurostat said the Government had “considerable control” over Irish Water, in particular over appointments to the board and its operation. It said there was significant and continuous Government support in the form of grants and operational funds.

Opposition parties have called on the Government to abolish the company and scrap the water charging regime.

Fianna Fáil said the Eurostat report was a damning indictment of Government policy while Sinn Féin said the ruling would lead to the scrapping of the conservation grant.