The Irish Water Committee will meet next week for a final time to sign off on a report on the future of water charges 'that will mean more meters per head than in the UK'
FINE Gael and Fianna Fail have made a secret pact to install over 300,000 extra water meters in apartment blocks across the country.
The Irish Water Committee will meet next week for a final time to sign off on a report on the future of water charges.
Though the committee is not expected to emerge with a united report, sources expect a majority write-up will be agreed between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to get them both “off the hook”.
As part of the deal over 300,000 extra water meters will be installed in apartments across Ireland.
This will avoid the sort of confrontations encountered with picketers during the placing of 900,000 individual devices outside houses over the past few years.
Apartments have so far been avoided because they pose the most technical problems in installation.
A source close to the deal said: ‘‘There will only be bulk metering of apartments, that will generate 300,000 extra meters.
“If that occurs, Ireland will have more meters per head of population than the UK.
“If that doesn’t keep Europe happy we don’t know what will.”
The agreement is part of a two-legged strategy aimed at placating EU demands for the imposition of water charges agreed under our bailout deal.
Both parties hope the proposed ‘three baths’ fining scheme — where households which exceed that level of water usage will be fined — will act as a de facto water charge scheme.
However, it remains to be seen whether EU chiefs would accept such a move, which would see only around 70,000 homes across Ireland having to stump up.
A source explained: ‘‘We have no choice in this, something has to be done to ensure we keep Europe happy by, at least appearing to be applying a ‘polluter pays’ principle.
“It will be up to the regulator to see how charges will be imposed, it will have nothing to do with us, standard water charges are off the table.”
The committee will have a final meeting on water charges next week and present their findings to the Dail a week later.
Though the cross-party committee will split on the issue one senior government figure noted with relief “the agreement between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael has taken water off the list of possible election causes”.
The figure added: “Nobody wants an election over water, Sinn Fein will oppose the deal, but they will be fairly half-hearted.
“They know water only benefits Paul Murphy and that lot.
“The main thing anyway is that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have got ourselves off the water charges hook, it is no longer a live grenade, instead it is a Sinn Fein-Solidarity dud.”
Committee member and Fianna Fail spokesman on Housing, Planning and Local Government, Barry Cowen criticised “unhelpful speculation” about the number of apartments that will have individual water meters installed.
He claimed the Oireachtas Water Committee is still discussing whether apartments can be “block metered” to assist with conservation.
Mr Cowen said: “There is a clear acceptance, from all members of all political colours on the committee, that the era of state-sponsored individual water metering is over.
“The bottom line is that the current water charging regime is now defunct.
“Fianna Fail believes that penalties, under the 2007 Water Act with amendments, will ensure compliance with the EU’s Water Directive.”
Fine Gael committee member Senator Paudie Coffey said: “I welcome the fact that the committee looks like agreeing to the retention and use of all existing meters, the installation of meters in all new builds and bulk metering to measure consumption in apartment blocks.
“This will amount to metering of water for domestic use of in excess of approximately 80 per cent. ‘By implementing a levy or charge for excessive use over a certain threshold we are confident that water conservation will improve and we will be in compliance with the polluter pays principle of the EU.”
Labour’s Alan Kelly warned against any arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
He said: “What is being proposed is illegal and will cost taxpayers dearly in fines.
“It does not meet European law requirements and will end with massive fines that working men and women will have to pay through their income taxes.”
Mr Kelly said that the public “are being deceived for political convenience”.
He also warned Fine Gael leadership candidate Simon Coveney “this deal will come back to haunt you”.
He said: “Future generations will regret a solution that won’t raise the funding required to deal with water and waste problems across the country.”
The committee has 20 members; six Fine Gael, five Fianna Fail and two Sinn Fein.
The Solidarity- People Before Profit are represented by Dublin South-West TD Paul Murphy.
Of the three independent members Thomas Pringle and Seamus Healy oppose charges while Noel Grealish is supportive.
Source: The Irish Sun, April 3, 2017