Proposals by expert group on water ‘would not breach EU rules’

Group chairman Kevin Duffy tells Oireachtas committee exchequer should pay for water

The expert group charged with examining the future funding of Irish water services reached a unanimous conclusion that its recommendations would not breach EU rules, its chairman has said.

Kevin Duffy appeared before the first session of the Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services to set out the rationale for the group's recommendations.

It said that the cost of providing citizens with sufficient clean water should be met using exchequer funds rather than billing property owners, but that households with excessive usage of water would be charged individually.

The group did not specify what would constitute sufficient use, saying that determination should be made by the energy regulator.


“The practical effect of that shift will be that the State will be a customer of Irish Water and the exchequer will pay for the amount of water supplied.”

‘Excessive’ use

Mr Duffy also referred to the fact that charges would be retained for “excessive” use of water. Those would help satisfy the conditions for domestic charges laid down by the EU’s water framework directive, which sets out binding legal rules on domestic water charges that respect the “polluter pays” principle.

The expert group, Mr Duffy told the committee, had made no recommendation on whether or not the water-metering project should be continued. Some 800,000 households, roughly 60 per cent, have been metered so far.

He told the committee, which has been asked to make recommendations to Government by March on funding water services, that considerable benefit had been derived from the installation of water meters.

Mr Duffy said valuable data on leaks and managing the system had been collected. He referred to the meters contributing to a new set of data that showed that per-household consumption of water was considerably lower than had previously been estimated.

The European Commission had estimated in 2011 that consumption was around 142 cubic metres per capita, while the new data from Irish Water indicated it was only 111 cubic metres, or 123 cubic metres if leaks in the system were included.

Public acceptability

Referring to the fact that most other EU countries charge for water on a volume basis, he said the commission was satisfied that it had to take due account of the degree to which charges attracted public acceptability.

“We adopted the reasoning of the Indecon report on local government funding in 2005, which made a recommendation that if something was correct in principle but incapable of being implemented, ‘it does a disservice to the reform of local government funding’.

“The changes have to take account of the political constraints and the overall acceptability of options to the commission,” he said.

He said the commission was of the view that the issue public ownership of water services was an appropriate matter to add to the agenda.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times