Irish Sleepwalking Down the Road to Full Water Charges

The political class know exactly what it’s about. The majority of Irish citizens haven’t a clue. The result could be that total control over our water will be handed over to Brussels bureaucrats. It all hinges on a little subsection of a European Directive and the willingness of our government to use it. The question is who's going to champion the Irish cause?

by James Quigley


The subsection is 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive 2000 (WFD). This simply says member states shall not be in breach of the directive if they decide not to apply full provisions for a given water-use and they shall report the reasons in their River Basin Management Plans (RBMP).

This might not sound much but in reality it is massive. It allows member states to regulate it’s water according to established practices, as long as it does not ″compromise the purposes and the achievement of the objectives of the Directive″. Brussels can not remove this clause but Ireland can give it away and everything is pointing in that direction.

Each member country of the EU is obliged by the WFD to implement three River Basin Management Plans for structuring it’s water resources. By the end of the third, supposedly 2027, all members states should be in full compliance. Ireland, however, is three years late with their second RBMP with it’s draft plan just put up on the DHPLG website. It is open for submissions until February 28th.

According to a department information officer Ireland’s finalised plan will be published on April 2018, the same day that it is sent to the EU Commission. It will then be subject to 3 month’s of negotiations where the Irish Government must supply all supporting documentation. However there is speculation that these negotiations could run on much longer and then they could be affected by further rumours of a total revamp of the Water Framework Directive itself later on this year.

Should the unsuspecting public be wary?

The following is an extract of the draft River Basin Management Plan, page 20.  I look upon the explanation of the 2010 plan wrong.  It is a subjective one that suits their purpose but it does not give the full facts. Bear in mind that because they say something, it does not necessarily means it is fact. You might see what they are trying to do when you read the second part of the paragraph i.e. our ‘established practice’ is gone, full steam ahead.

″The first cycle of river basin management plans was completed in 2010. Ireland signaled an intention to introduce water charges and did not avail of the exemption outlined in article 9(4) of the WFD. In line with article 9(2) of the WFD, we will be required in the final river basin management plan for 2018- 2021 to set out our approach for the cost recovery of water services based on the economic analysis conducted according to Annex III, the contribution of the different water users to cost recovery and how this will contribute to achieving the environmental objectives of the Directive.″

Coupled with some fine print in the revised Water Services Act 2017, particular Section 9, that allows for CER (energy regulator) to do some fine adjustments to figures on ‘threshold amounts’ of  domestic water, the Irish Public should be worried.  That’s a nice way of saying; whittling away at the water basic allowances.

What can we do?

I like the idea of people arming themselves with facts, questioning everything and not listening to what they are told by politicians and media alike, no matter who they are. I also like the idea of public empowerment, helping themselves, but unfortunately the issue of water charges has been given over to the political establishment where it is now subject to legal interpretations.

The public must demand that politicians and groups who made commitments against water charges, whether it is Right2Water or Fianna Fáil, put their money where their mouths are. They have to question the legality of this draft River Basin Management Plan. If their integrity can be respected they must not accept what seems to be happening to the principle of Ireland's  ‘Established Practice’.  They must stand up to EU interference and threats. 

Fianna Fáil has a particular responsibility in this issue since they are in a position of power because of it’s ″Confidence and Supply″ arrangement with the present Government. 

The public should contact all TDs, even attend their constituency clinics and demand that they do everything in their power to protect Ireland’s ‘Established Practice’,   They must question the published draft RBMP and at least make sure that the 9.4 section of the Water Framework Directive is invoked.


Irish Water to start charging for excess use from January 2019

The firm said a public consultation will be carried out to determine what makes excess usage


Irish Water is to impose charges for excess water use from January 2019.

But the utility provider said bills for overuse will not be issued until July 1.

Rules relating to charges will be decided by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

The Water Services Act 2017 states charges to domestic customers will only apply where the volume of water consumed exceeds the 213,000 litres annually.

Irish Water said a public consultation will be carried out to determine what makes excess usage.

A new report from the Commission for Regulation of Utilities confirmed the suspension of water charges will continue until December 31 2018.

Original article; Irish Mirror, Feb 9, 2017

Final FOI Appeal Turned Down by Commissioner and Sinn Féin Economical with the Truth about the Oireachtas Water Committee.

by James Quigley

Last month a senior officer from the Office of the Information Commissioner turned down my third and final appeal against the decision to refuse access to all records, not in the public domain, of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. In all there were some thirty secret sessions of the water Committee held between January to April 2017.  It now looks like we will never know what went on behind those closed doors.

The original request was interested in the management of the committee itself, how decisions were finalised and who voted for what. In particular the request highlighted the session of February 15th .  In that session the Water Framework Directive and it’s all important 9.4 paragraph that dealt with Ireland’s Water Charges Exemption was discussed at length.  For some inexplicable reason, that was the last we heard about the 9.4 Exemption and at the conclusion of the Committee's business in April 2017 there was not a mention of it in any final report.

The Constitution, transparency and accountability
It seems openness, transparency and accountability of Dáil Éireann and it's Committees are hidden in confidentiality and protected by Article 15.10 of the Constitution. The following is a section of the  Commissioner’s decision.  It can be be read in full HERE:

Section from Commissioners decision.

Section from Commissioners decision.

That’s the bureaucrats but what about those on our side?

I can understand establishment politicians and officials hiding behind bureaucratic excuses.  After all we  let them do it and keep voting them into office.  But you might think that you would get answers from those that were supposedly representing  the anti Water Charges side.  Sadly in my experience this has not been the case. The R2W leadership and their representatives on that establishment Oireachtas Committee including Sinn Féin, Solidarity, PBP and Independents have not addressed any of the concerns from dejected anti Water Charges campaigners.

Some basic questions that have not been answered are: 1) why there was no mention of the 9.4 Exemption in the report which they applauded on April 6, 2017?   2) why did they accept  Irish Water Ltd?  3) why did  they accept the principle of charging for excessive and the use of metering?

After repeated inquiries Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin TD, eventually posted this answer on Facebook:

Sinn Féin and the other Right2Water TDs argued very strongly in the Water Committee for the retention of the exemption contained in the Water Services Directive. Sinn Féin commissioned a Senior Council legal opinion on the issue, tabled the opinion at the Committee and challenged the European Commission on the issue when they came to the committee. Unfortunately as the final report to the committee did not commit to the full abolition of water charges Sinn Féin and the other Right2Water TDs opposed the final report. The Right2Water movement made a formal submission to the Governments River Basin Management Plan consultation which explicitly called on the Government to invoke 9.4 in their revised plan. That is now a matter for the Government which has yet to publish their final plan to be submitted to the European Commission.″

This is such a typical stock political answer.  It  contains enough truths to make it seem plausible but in substance the answer does not address the the most important question. I have watched the full February debate, well what was available to the public that is, and can safely say that the Senior Counsels, representing both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil by the way, indeed made very convincing arguments for the retention of the 9.4 Exemption.  So much so that one would have thought the 9.4 argument should have been included in any final report.  It was not and it was never even mentioned after February 15th.

I am convinced that the Right2Water representatives did not put up much of an argument themselves and at the end of the day they must not have believed the Senior Counsels themselves because they did not insist that the 9.4 be part of any final report.

See full video: Right2Water TD's at Leinster House claim 'Victory' Apr 5th 2017
                       Clouds of suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption in Oireachtas Water Committee report