Water charges: cowardice meets cynicism
Taking water off the political agenda rather than dealing with the issue
The political system has for decades failed to devise a plan for a comprehensive system of water conservation and is now set to compound its earlier neglect with a deeply flawed approach to charging for water. It appears that after months of wrangling, the Oireachtas committee on water charges is about to propose an end to metering as a means of conservation. In its place a system of prosecution and fines for the wasteful use of water is being recommended.
However, as household metering is being ruled out as a way of determining how much water is being used, it is very difficult to see how the system will work. The committee is proposing that district metering be used to determine excessive usage but how this will identify the households which are wasting water is hard to comprehend.
The notion of fining the 70,000 or so households who supposedly engage in the wasteful use of water, without any system of determining who they are, is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. The committee’s solution is obviously designed to take water off the political agenda for the foreseeable future rather than making a realistic attempt to deal with the issue. The victims of this political ineptitude will be the majority of law abiding Irish citizens who will pay through general taxation for a system that encourages waste.
Former minister for the environment Alan Kelly is undoubtedly right when he says that what is being proposed by the committee is illegal and will not meet the polluter-pays and cost-recovery principles which form the basis of the EU directive on water. Ultimately the Irish taxpayer is likely to face hefty penalties for the failure of the political class to act in a responsible manner and introduce a common sense system of delivering water to households for a small charge.
Under the terms of the draft report agreed by the 20-member Oireachtas committee, the Commission for Energy Regulation will be given responsibility for setting a figure for normal usage of water. Irish Water will have the power to notify individual householders by post if it suspects there is a wilful wasting of water but how this is to be done is not spelled out and neither is the cost to the State of effectively abolishing water charges.
The report also recommends that householders who paid their water charges should be refunded but how precisely this is going to be implemented is a matter for the Government. The committee is also proposing that people in group water schemes should have the same financial support as that being offered to those on public water scheme.
The Oireachtas committee’s report represents a cowardly climb down by Fine Gael and a cynical manoeuvre by Fianna Fáil. If the two biggest parties in the Dáil are prepared to sign up to such a disastrous policy it must raise further serious questions about the viability of the “new politics”.