Joan Burton ‘satisfied’ Irish Water will pass Eurostat test

Tánaiste expresses confidence as Taoiseach says Government made mistakes

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she is satisfied that Irish Water will pass the Eurostat market corporation test as an independent company capable of borrowing.

"The test is whether or not there is a stream of income in excess of 50 per cent of the total funding which comes from funding other than the Government, " she said.

"The Government's subvention, in terms of Irish Water, is 44 per cent, so we more than comfortably pass the test."

Ms Burton was replying in the Dáil today to Fianna Fáil spokesman on the environment Barry Cowen who said there was concern about the ability of Irish Water to borrow off the balance sheet to the extent that the Government wants.

Mr Cowen asked what reassurance she had received from Eurostat that the revised Irish Water model would pass the test. He asked what “plan B” would be if the company failed to do so.

Ms Burton said Eurostat was like the Central Statistics Office in Ireland in that it was "augustly independent", adding that it would make its own decision. She said she was being asked to predict the outcome of a test by an independent body. "We anticipate they will carry out that test and examination some time next April," she added.

The Minister for Communications Alex White had said earlier that there is a “risk” that the new water charges package may not pass the Eurostat market corporation test.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Séan O’Rourke, the Minister said during questioning that it was still not certain that the water conservation grant promised in the package would be allowed under EU guidelines.

The package contained concessions and caps on charges, including a €100 rebate for all eligible households. This rebate could possibly contravene Eurostat market corporation guidelines.

Mr White was questioned on whether the rebate was guaranteed if the Government’s proposals didn’t pass the necessary test. The Minister said he was “confident” that the package would pass and that there was “no requirement for a Plan B.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny called on people opposed to water charges to reflect on Government having been “big enough” to rectify its mistakes on Irish Water.

“Mr Kenny said he faces protests everywhere he goes on pylons, turbines and other issues when asked if he felt Government had managed to quell water charges protests.

“I understand that in a democracy. But for Irish Water I think we’ve answered all of these anxieties of people very comprehensively,” he said.

“I hope that they reflect now on the fact that Government has admitted it made mistakes but Government has been big enough to rectify those mistakes and set out a pathway where we can fix what’s been wrong in terms of the infrastructure and invest for the future for the good of our country.”

He was speaking at Croke Park in Dublin after a Comhairle na nÓg event.

The Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said earlier that he does not want to see people jailed for non-payment of water charges. Mr Kelly also confirmed that the Government will not be making any further concessions on water charges.

The Minister was speaking in response to the new water charges package announced yesterday, in a bid to encourage people to register with Irish Water.

The Minister said legislation would be introduced to allow landlords to hold back tenants’ deposits if water charges have not been paid, and that Irish Water would have the right to take people to court who did not pay the charges, like other utility companies.

However, the Minister said he would not like to see people end up in jail for non-payment as the charge could be put on the property.

“I don’t see people ending up in jail,” he said.

Mr Kelly said there would be fines of €30 for single households and €60 for other households who refuse to pay.

“It’s virtually impossible to be basing [the charged] on people’s incomes,” he said.

Mr Kelly said future protests will not cause any changes to the current water package.

Mr Kelly said that without the previous protests, the water charges issues would have “probably been revised anyway”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Kelly reiterated setting up Irish Water was not a mistake.

“It’s absolutely impossible to continue like this...We will have a crisis in water,” he said.

Mr Kelly said he had confidence in John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water, and the company's management.