Billing of water charges to be suspended next week

Nine-month suspension to billing does not affect existing arrears, says Simon Coveney

Fianna Fáil local government spokesman Barry Cowen said the Government needed to “to end the failed [water charges] regime”. File photograph: Getty Images

Fianna Fáil local government spokesman Barry Cowen said the Government needed to “to end the failed [water charges] regime”. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Billing for water charges will be suspended for nine months from next week following the introduction of legislation in the Dáil.

Minister for Local Government Simon Coveney said the Water Services (Amendment) Bill provided for a “straightforward suspension” from July 1st.

But he warned it “does not affect the existing arrears of Irish Water customers, nor does it reward those who have not paid thus far”.

Next week, the Minister will announce the membership of the commission to look at a sustainable funding model for the future of water services.

He confirmed the Government’s intention to introduce legislation in the autumn to establish an external advisory board for Irish Water.

The board will publish advice to the Government and give quarterly reports to an Oireachtas committee on Irish Water’s performance.

Mr Coveney said “I hope the decision to have an assessment board and expert commission will help to depoliticise this issue”. This was a “difficult challenge” because the issue had become so political, he said.

Fianna Fáil local government spokesman Barry Cowen said the time period for the suspension could be extended and he said “water charges have failed”.

He said they needed to “to end this failed regime” and “create a pathway to the potential ending of water charges” and resolving Irish Water.

Mr Cowen also claimed the European Commission did not say Ireland had to impose water charges but reaffirmed that established practice allowed for derogation, which the Minister rejected as untrue.

Fudge

Sinn Féin local government spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said his party saw the Bill as a fudge but they would support it.

“However, nobody should be under any misunderstanding that this represents a shift in our position. We want an end to domestic water charges. We want the public ownership of water and water services enshrined in the Constitution.”

Labour Party local government spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan also described the Bill as a fudge and said they were in a “do-nothing Dáil where everything gets pushed down the road”.

Anti-Austerity-Alliance-People-Before-Profit TD Mick Barry said more than 1 million people had boycotted the water charges in full or in part.

He told the Minister “it doesn’t matter if you ring in 10 committees or 100 committees, the charges are gone. Working-class people are not prepared to pay.”