Report recommends most families should not have to pay for water

Fianna Fáil says it now seems clear that suspended water charges 'will not be reintroduced'

Report recommends most families should not have to pay for water

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The report of an expert group on water charges has been released - with the recommendation that most families should not have to pay.

The expert group says the "normal domestic and personal needs" of most citizens should be be provided free - and users should only pay for "excessive or wasteful use".

"What is proposed here does not amount to the provision of a ‘free allowance’ of water nor does it involve additional direct subsidies by the State to the water utility," the report states.

"Rather, the water utility will provide sufficient water to all citizens to cover their domestic and personal needs, and the costs of providing that water will be recovered from the State, which will be a customer of Irish Water, based on tariffs approved by [the Commission for Energy Regulation]."

It also says a special Oireachtas committee should be set up to look at whether a referendum should be held to stop Irish Water being sold.

But the report doesn't say whether another tax should be introduced to cover the cost - saying that is up to the Government.

It recommends a "much more proactive approach be taken to promoting domestic water conservation measures in Ireland", and suggests it recommendations are likely to comply with EU law.

The report was not due to be released until at least tomorrow, before being given to a new Oireachtas committee later in the week. However, it was published early after details of the findings were leaked.

The report will now be considered by a Dáil committee, with Minister Simon Coveney saying their recommendations are expected by mid-February. Those recommendations will then be considered by the Dáil and Seanad.

Minister Coveney also said: "The funding strategy for Irish Water for 2017 and 2018 will be reconsidered by Government in early 2017 following the decisions of the Oireachtas, informed by the report of the Expert Commission, on the approach to funding domestic water services. I hope we will continue to have a reasoned and respectful debate on these issues in advance of a final decision."

The removal of charges would, however, be seen as a blow to Fine Gael, as the party has fought hard to keep them.

Speaking after today's publication, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson Barry Cowen said: “This is a detailed report and will require due consideration. Following an initial reading of the report it is clear there are a lot of issues that need to be clarified and addressed. I look forward to working with my Oireachtas colleagues at the newly formed Special Oireachtas Committee on Water to achieve this.

“Under the terms of the Confidence and Supply Arrangement water charges were suspended for an initial period of nine months. It seems clear that these water charges will not be reintroduced," he added.

Although the current set of charges were introduced by Labour's Alan Kelly, the party says the findings are exactly what it hoped for.

Its housing spokesperson Jan O'Sullivan said: "I put in submission to the Commission on behalf of the Labour party, and I clearly said there should be an allocation for households and that only those who waste water should have to pay extra".

Labour leader Brendan Howlin told Newstalk Drive that we need a referendum to "that there would be a single national infrastructure and it would remain in public ownership".

Sinn Féin said it is disappointed details of the report have been leaked before TDs have got sight of it.

The party's housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin says the job of the group was very narrow.

"It didn't include anything about water poverty, it didn't include anything about the management and delivery mechanisms of water and sanitation services - and it had a very light line around information about conservation", he said.

This evening, Deputy Ó Broin suggested that the report is just a way of getting Fianna Fáil to support water charges, to some degree:

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil that because of the leaks, the report would be released this evening.

"Because of the situation that applies here, the minister for housing has informed me that this report will be published early this evening - and it will go straight directly to the specific committee set up in the Oireachtas to deal with it".