Where do people stand now with water charges?

We may have to wait until the end of February to find out more

Irish Water, treatment plants, Galway, rural, boil water notices, Paul Melia, Cork, Arklow

File photo of water running from a household tap | PA Images

With an expert report recommending water charges should only be applied for excessive use, where do people on both sides stand now?

The group found that 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]."

These recommendations will now be considered by a special Oireachtas committee.

Who is on the Water Services Committee?

The committee is composed of five members appointed by the Government, four members appointed by Fianna Fáil, two members appointed by Sinn Féin, and one member each from Labour, the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, Independents 4 Change, the Rural Independent Group, and the Social Democrats-Green Party Group.

It is being chaired by Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh.

The group will submit a report to both Houses of the Oireachtas by February 28th 2017, or within three months of its first public meeting - whichever is later.

The Finance Minister Michael Noonan has raised the possibility that water bills could be refunded for those who have already paid.

He told a meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators that exchequer returns for November would be €280m ahead of expectations.

It means the State would be able to afford refunds for the €144m paid in water charges last year - although Mr Noonan did not indicate whether he supported spending money for that purpose.

But it remains unclear if those who refused to pay before the charges were suspended will be prosecuted.

Minister Denis Naughten explains.

"The reason the Government hasn't progressed that issue whatsoever is because there was decision taken at the formation of the Government to actually suspend water charges.

"And until a final decision is made on that, I don't think the Government is in a position to decide which approach it's going to take".

"People will end up having to pay"

While AAA-PBP TD Paul Murphy TD said yesterday: "People should get ready for further protests".

And Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald, while welcoming some of the recommendations, rejected the proposal for a charge on 'excessive' waste usage.

She claimed any such measure would "inevitably lead to the introduction of across the board water charges in the future".

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said he believes there should not be refunds for those who already paid - saying: "It's an unpaid bill and an outstanding debt - just like an unpaid ESB bill or an unpaid management charge.

"And ultimately eventually, one way or another, people will end up having to pay that bill". paid water charges - and those who didn't pay should be pursued."

It seems those who have paid are still in a grey area as to whether or not they will get their money back - while those who have not paid could still be pursued for the charges.

Those opposed have vowed to continue to protest any inclusion of charges - excess or otherwise - for homes.

It seems D-Day on water charges is still sometime away.