A Chara - The recent announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Mr Howlin, that water charges are to be abolished is good news to some, but it does not apply to consumers on group water-schemes (20 per cent of the population at least).

Unfortunately these householders will have to pay a maintenance charge to the group organisers to maintain the GWS. Most people in rural Ireland depend on a GWS and they will now have to pay twice for the same service, i.e. pay the annual charge to the group, pay road tax and PAYE, and pay for domestic waste collection.

It gets even worse for those dependent on social welfare and on a GWS as the fee-waiver scheme only applies to local authority schemes, i.e. they too will have to pay regardless of their means. The costs associated with water treatment are rising as EU directives on water quality have to be met and it follows the road tax will also rise.

Here are three solutions to this discriminatory situation:

1. The local authorities could take over the running of all the GWS as they will get the road tax funding to do this;

2. The local authority could pay the GWS organisers an amount of money per house to fund the maintenance of the GWS

3. GWS receipts (i.e. proof of payment) could be accepted as a credit against motor tax or could be offset against PAYE.

The new system is unfair as it discriminates against a large portion of rural Ireland and the hinterlands of large towns that have expanded into GWS areas.

Urban dwellers can avail themselves of subsidised public transport and get water free of charge; in addition car ownership may be regarded as a luxury in an urban setting but in rural areas a car is a necessity regardless of socio-economic status.

It is amazing that this anomalous situation had not been foreseen in what the Minister described as a fundamental reform of local government, considering that in excess of 20 per cent of the population is adversely affected.

To conclude, I urge Mr Howlin to rethink this scheme and also that rural TDs wake up and fight this inequality. - Mise le meas,

Bainisteoir, Comharchumann Shailearna Teoranta, Na hAille, Indreabhan, Co na Gaillimhe.