Water conservation grant should be ongoing, TD says

Minister says €540 million payment from local government fund ’well flagged’

A Government backbencher has told the Dáil the €100 water conservation grant should be an ongoing scheme because of the costs involved in group water schemes for rural communities.

Staunchly defending the grant from the Government to all householders, Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan said rural dwellers were “finally going to get something” from Government for the provision of their water.

He said “ordinary working people” in rural areas were “sick to the back teeth of listening to people give out” about them receiving the grant. The payment was designed to ensure people could have a safe and potable water supply, “including in a rural area where they might have groundwater that is at risk of contamination from cryptosporidium and septic tanks that do not function properly”.

The Limerick TD said in such cases a householder had to buy an ultra-violet light to kill the bacteria that were flowing into the water. Rural dwellers did that entirely at their own expense, he said.

“What could be wrong with any government that brings in a scheme for the first time in the history of the State that says to those people it values what they have done for their families, children and communities?”

He added that for pensioners living alone who had wells or who were members of group water schemes where their water could cost over €200, this was a lot of money and it should be an ongoing scheme.

He was speaking during the controversial debate on amendments to ensure water charges payments that were added to environmental miscellaneous provisions legislation. The Opposition claimed the amendments should have stood alone in their own Bill.

Mr O’Donovan was speaking during debate on the Government’s amendment to allow for a sum of “not more than €540 million” to be transferred from the local government fund to the Exchequer, which the Opposition said would then be transferred to Irish Water.

Sinn Féin environment spokesman Brian Stanley said he believed the costs of Irish Water were now running close to €2 billion. He was concerned about the €540 million, which included the €500 million loan that the Government transferred on to the State's balance sheet in December and €59 million for rates, as well as the €399 million subvention operational costs and the €222 million for capital costs and €130 million for the water conservation grant. He said it was not a conservation grant but a "carrot or inducement".

He said the €540 million looked like a once-off payment but he asked would the Government come back next year and look for another €540 million.

Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy said any transfer should have to be agreed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, suggesting there could be more of the same next year.