Taoiseach tells Ministers to go out and sell revised water charges to public

Government hoping new package will encourage more people to register

Fiach Kelly and Michael O'Regan analyse the new water charges plan.

 

The Government is hoping the substantially recast water charges package will reboot the stalled Irish Water registration process and help the Coalition put its “annus horribilis” behind it.

Senior Government sources admit the real test of the new water charges plan, announced by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly yesterday, will not be the size of the next planned mass protest, but whether registrations with Irish Water pick up in the coming months.

Mr Kelly received another two death threats yesterday, one to his Dáil office and another to his constituency office in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. He has received four such threats in total.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday told the Cabinet it was their responsibility to go out and sell the new plan, adding that while huge mistakes were made in the establishment of Irish Water, he would not apologise for setting up the company.

Gain money Many Government TDs felt the new plan was the best that could be achieved, with a number pointing out that some people – such as those on group water schemes – will actually gain money upon receipt of the €100 water conservation grant.

Opposition TDs claimed the penalties for non-payment of water bills will become a general election issue, since the first fines will not have to be paid until April 2016. It was also acknowledged yesterday that there is a “deliberate effort” under way to separate the 70-80 per cent of middle ground voters the Government believes will pay the charge from others who will refuse to pay. The number of homeowners registering with the new semi-State slowed substantially in recent weeks as people realised major changes were coming, well-placed sources say.

Campaigners It is understood some 800,000 homes out of a total of 1.3 million have registered to date and anti-water charge campaigners, such as Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, have called for a boycott of the charge.

“There was a definite tapering off over the past few weeks because people knew changes were coming,” a source said, adding that one million registrations before Christmas would be a good result. There was some nervousness among backbench TDs about how the public will respond. “We got the economy right but we got the politics wrong. We have to start getting the politics right.”

A senior Minister added: “There’s been talk of putting 2014 behind us and writing it off as a bad year, with 2015 being much better, but there was similar talk after the local elections.”

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