Water charges "one step closer to full abolition"

Very few people in Ireland will be paying for water if the recommendations of the Oireachtas water charges committee are accepted

The government’s water charges committee has agreed on a set of final recommendations that, if accepted, would see very few people in Ireland paying for domestic water.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services will deliver its final report to the government next week.

While the committee has recommended that there should be fines for households that are “wilfully wasting water” – the proposed threshold for wastage has been set at 70% higher than the average usage.

The Sinn Féin spokesperson on housing Eoin Ó Broin told Newstalk this afternoon that he believes we are now very close to “abolishing any form of domestic water charge.”

File photo, Sinn Féin spokesperson on housing, Eoin Ó Broin, 28-02-2017. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

“Those of us who have campaigned for a long time against this unfair and unjust form of double taxation, I think can be satisfied that we are moving in the right direction - and water charges in all their forms are now one step closer to full abolition,” he said.

It has been reported that 8% of householders, representing just over 70,000 homes, will fall within the threshold.

However, Deputy Ó Broin said there are a number of legitimate reasons as to why this might be the case – with a range of exemptions set to mean the vast majority will not be facing fines.

“There would be exemptions people with large households or for medical needs and then there would be supports for people to repair the leaks in their properties,” said Deputy Ó Broin.

“When all of that is out of the way, if there are still households – and I would anticipate there would be none or nearly none – who would continue to wilfully allow vast amounts of water to be wasted - then there will be fines,” he said.

Householders will get a notice in the post if they are found to be above the threshold and will have six months to make their case or fix any leaks.

Deputy Ó Broin said the committee recommendations are very different from “either water charges as originally conceived or indeed a charge for so-called excessive use.”

The recommendations will go before the Dáil next week where they will be the subject of cross-party debate.

Mr Ó Broin warned that nothing has been formally agreed as yet adding that he has “no idea” whether the government will accept the proposals.

The issue caused controversy between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil earlier this month with the Social protection Minister accusing Fianna Fáil of inconsistency over its stance.

The Housing Minister Simon Coveney had insisted he could not support any system that did not include an excessive use charge - as he believed it would leave Ireland open to EU fines.

The committee reportedly heard legal advice this morning that Ireland's existing laws could be used to fine those who wilfully waste water - although the laws will have to be strengthened.