Water charges not on agenda - Gormley

 

WATER CHARGES will not be introduced during the lifetime of this Government, Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said.

Mr Gormley, also the Green Party leader, said yesterday that while water charges are not on the agenda for the Government, he agreed with the view of climate change expert Prof John Sweeney that water was becoming a dwindling resource in Ireland. “Water shortages will be a key issue that Ireland will have to grapple with in the future, he said.

However, the Minister said there were other ways of tackling potential shortages which have already left some larger urban areas – particularly Dublin – struggling to meet demand during prolonged dry spells in recent years.

The main focus of Government policy will be to reduce the leakages from main water supply pipes.

A study carried out in Dublin in 1996 showed leakage levels of 40 per cent, due to corrosion in antiquated pipes. In the intervening years, the figure has been reduced to 30 per cent. But now the Department of Environment says its main focus will be to reduce leakages to zero in all major cities and towns.

“There will be substantial investment in water services to tackle leakages,” Mr Gormley’s spokesman said.

Figures supplied by the department show that €298 million has been spent on leakage reduction measures since 2002. In 2009, a total of €96 million is forecast to be spent in this area, representing 10 per cent of overall spending on waste water or water infrastructure.

“It’s the best short-term to medium-term action to deal with shortages of water and is a viable alternative to charges,” said the spokesman.

Both main Opposition parties oppose water charges. A spokeswoman for Fine Gael said that its positions is being reviewed as part of a wider study of the party’s local government policy. The internal party group, chaired by environment spokesman Phil Hogan, is expected to complete its work later this year. For its part, the Labour Party says it strongly favours the status quo.

“The Labour Party abolished water charges when Brendan Howlin was environment minister in the rainbow government in 1996. We would oppose any attempt to reintroduce water charges,” said a spokesman.