Calls for water infrastructure spend

Simon Coveney, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government

Simon Coveney, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government

Housing Minister Simon Coveney is being urged to ensure €148m in unspent funds for water meter installations instead goes towards fixing urban pipes and drainage systems.

A decision by Irish Water not to install up to 180,000 water meters at present should allow the company reallocate funds into capital infrastructure projects, Opposition TDs argue.

Minister Coveney says the saved money will go on non-domestic water meter upgrades and towards water works on lands that can be used to help address the housing shortage.

But Sinn Féin want the money pumped directly into fixing pipes and drains in order to help Ireland avoid being slapped with large fines for failing to implement an EU urban waste water directive.

Minister Coveney, in a parliamentary answer to Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin, confirmed the underspend in the domestic water metering programme.

Domestic metering contracts, agreed in 2013, were to install 1,050,000 devices over three years, he said.

“Ministerial consent was given to a budget of €614m including Vat for this purpose,” said the minister.

But the installation has stopped now, with Sinn Féin sources suggesting this is partially due to opposition to meters in housing estates and some urban areas.

In his parliamentary response, Minister Coveney added: “I understand from Irish Water that the expected capital expenditure by August 2016 will amount to €465m, which will deliver circa 870,000-880,000 meter installations.

“As such, savings of about €148m will accrue on the capital metering programme.

“Up to 180,000 meters included in the original programme will not be metered at this stage, for a combination of health and safety reasons, service complexity or other technical reasons.”

Deputy O’Broin says that the water meter funds could be better spent elsewhere.

“There is an under-spend of up to €148 million which has the potential to be reallocated.

“There is a sense of urgency in re-allocating these monies.

“We have heard off the record that Irish Water’s parent company Ervia is currently negotiating a six-month extension to the original water metering contract.

“It is alleged that the board of Ervia is soon to ratify this extension.

“I will be writing to both Minister Coveney and Ervia in an attempt to clarify this claim. It is outrageous that money is continuing to be spent on domestic water metering.

“Given that Ireland is currently undergoing infringement proceedings for a failure to implement the Urban Waste Water Treatment directive and that water infrastructure is crumbling, this funding would be better spent in addressing these issues as opposed to continuing with this controversial programme.”

Original article: Juno McEnroe, Irish Examiner July 16, 2016