Kathy Sinnott, the price of water and defending the ‘Irish exemption’

 

Sir, – Recently, I alerted people to the existence of the “Irish exemption” from the EU requirement to charge for domestic water (“Why the Government is not required to implement water charges on households”, Opinion & Analysis, November 21st).

Subsequently, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly stated that, “We do not have a derogation because we now have committed to the model that we have”.

The good news is that Ireland’s exemption is still in place. The challenging news is that it is under imminent threat of cancellation by the Minister himself!

In accordance with article 9.4 of the water framework directive, our exemption is embedded in the 2008 river basin management plan (RBMP). Any renewal or cancellation of the exemption would be under the next seven-year RBMP. And it is the Minister for the Environment who assembles and submits this plan. The plan is due in Brussels by January 1st, 2015, although there may be more time as Ireland is often late in meeting EU deadlines.

In 2010 the troika told us to privatise and charge for domestic water and both the Irish government and the European Commission trust that Mr Kelly will obey by stating in the river basin report that the only way we can protect our rivers is by charging for domestic water use!

But is this true?

If the money being spent on metering and that already collected in taxes for water is spent on domestic water infrastructure then households will meet their river management targets.

Because the EU water legislation is based on the “polluter pays principle”, the most obvious strategy for financing clean water is to identify the real polluters of water in Ireland and make them pay.

In the 2008 plan, the sources of pollution are listed. They included agriculture and rural septic tanks. These sources have been tackled at great expense to rural dwellers and significant improvement are being made.

Other listed sources, such as quarrying, mining, landfills, forestry, industry, etc, are still major sources of pollution. If it is the polluter who is supposed to pay then it should be these for-profit industries which pick up the tab for river basin protection.

Privatisation will not solve our water infrastructure problems because private companies are about profit.

It will make sense to invest in 500 metres of new piping in a city because it will serve hundreds of paying households. But there will be no incentive to do the same pipework in a rural area for five homes.

A privatised water system will still be a leaky water system!

Mr Kelly can save the Irish exemption by making the commitment in the river basin management plan that actual water polluters will pay, that funds collected for water infrastructure in existing taxes will be used to upgrade our systems and by creating incentives for improvements to domestic water use like rainwater collection system.

There is still time to save the Irish exemption – and the Irish people are in the mood to defend it because once the exemption is gone, we can never get it back. – Yours, etc,

KATHY SINNOTT,

Ballinabearna,

Ballinhassig,

Co Cork.

Sir, – The Taoiseach believes that the current protests are not about the water charges (“Enda Kenny says protests ‘not about water’”, November 17th). He is correct. The protests are about the Coalition’s failure to deliver the new politics and by extension a root-and-branch reform of the public service.

For many citizens Irish Water epitomises all that is wrong with the Irish political system and those that administer it. Irish Water was to be a commercial utility company but its first chief executive was a former local authority manager without commercial experience. The large investment in this new enterprise was overseen by a senior government minister who denied any knowledge as to how the funds were being spent.

The operating staff transferred from the local authorities was in excess of what was required to operate Irish Water efficiently, under a 12-year service agreement negotiated by the city and county managers whose sole interest was to reduce their payroll costs.

The local property tax was paid to fund the local authorities but the reduction in payroll costs resulting from this transfer was not passed on to the taxpayer. Instead we are being asked to pay again with water charges.

Irish Water is now overstaffed and inefficiencies thus created will be perpetuated – work will expand to meet the staff available.

There has been condemnation of Irish Water’s poor communications, but why are we surprised?

It is a surrogate of the public service where communication with the citizen is not a priority and in some cases borders on contempt.

The source of all this lies in our dysfunctional political system where the citizens’ entitlements are regarded as favours to be granted by politicians and public servants and not seen as a right that should be objectively and professionally processed.

The political system has created a culture of dependency and entitlement that precludes a republic that is managed by rules and regulations. – Yours, etc,

SEÁN MURRAY,

Barna,

Co Galway.