Irish Water: Ever more bizarre details on funding issues emerge

Ill-fated State utility needs €13 billion to be invested in water services – crunch issue is where this money is going to be found

 

The latest advice from the Commission for Energy Regulation that Irish Water should halt its €500 million metering programme is another bizarre twist in what has become one of the most tortuous political sagas in recent decades.

So far, 58 per cent of households have been provided with meters. As for the remaining 42 per cent, the CER has suggested that these households should be given a tax rebate for installing meters, provided that they use less water than the average, and there might also be a grants scheme to encourage people to invest in water-saving measures.

Taking an each-way bet, however, it has also proposed that the installation of meters in newly-built homes should be mandatory.

Last November, the expert commission on the future funding of water infrastructure said households should be charged for profligate waste of water, consistent with the “polluter pays principle” – although, inexplicably, it put forward no mechanism for implementing this proposal. In the absence of universal domestic water metering, it is hard to see how households using grossly excessive volumes of water can be charged for their waste.

And now we’re told by Irish Water that it will require an additional €239 million from the Government this year, describing it as “replacement revenue in lieu of previous domestic billable income”, lost as a result of the decision to suspend water charging.

The ill-fated State utility has already told the special Oireachtas committee on future water funding that €13 billion needs to be invested in water services, and the crunch issue is where this money is going to be found.

The committee must also take into account the trenchant view of the European Commission last May that Ireland does not enjoy an exemption from the obligation under the EU’s overarching water framework directive for a system of charges, and would face legal action in the European Court of Justice if it fails to implement such a regime. With the risk of daily fines for noncompliance, we ignore this bigger picture at our peril.

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