'No refund for water billpayers' - Coveney says it would set ‘dangerous precedent’

Foreward Buncrana Together

They're all at it, that's politics for you.  The 'expert' Domestic Water Commission report has got the politicians in a tizzy.

Mr Coveney is scared to set a dangerous precedent and has put his foot in it by rushing  responses to the report. He is now threatening haul Brendan O'Mahony, one of the 'expert' commissioners before the an Oireachtas committee on water for a grilling.

Mr Noonan wants to get rid of all the dead cats or the one cat that has gotten out of the bag, him forcing people to pay for his extravagant pipe dream.   

Mr Barry Cowan wants to toss a coin, heads - we give money  back,  tails - jail all those bad people who did not pay for the hoax.  

Then Mr Penrose whose party was jointly responsible for the fiasco is threatening to use his legal expertise, him being a barrister and all.  That's the fighting spirit for you.

Catherine Byrne last night was said to be feeling some type of remorse but apparently not for her party browbeating elderly people into paying or for the lies and threats by her party colleagues.   

Mr Alan Farrel is worried that his party will loose votes if they do not refund the ill-gotten gains. That's empathy for you.

And after all that Mr Coveney  wants to study the Domestic Water Commission report a bit more.

Irish Independent, Dec 1, 2016

'No refund for water billpayers' - Coveney says it would set ‘dangerous precedent’

Backlash in FG as Noonan calls charges a 'dead cat'

by Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Under pressure: Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo:Tom Burke

Under pressure: Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo:Tom Burke

 Housing Minister Simon Coveney is coming under massive pressure to refund almost one million householders who paid water charges despite warning it would set "a dangerous precedent".

Mr Coveney wants a payment plan put in place for hundreds of thousands of people who owe money to Irish Water. 

'Dead Cat': Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Photo:Tom Burke

'Dead Cat': Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Photo:Tom Burke

"A lot of people who paid water charges aren't expecting refunds. What they want is fairness and equity to ensure that if they pay what they owe, others do the same," Mr Coveney told the Irish Independent.

He said he "won't stand over a situation where people who paid are made a fool of because they did the right thing".

However, a Fine Gael party meeting was last night dominated by the issue, with TDs expressing fears that they would never be forgiven if refunds were not issued.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the party has lost votes over water and it was time to "get this dead cat off the field".

He said that the €120m a year required to pay for water charges is "not significant" given that the State's budget is €58bn.

The split came as Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen described Mr Coveney's reaction to the Expert Commission on Water's report as "rushed" and "a bit irrational".

His party now wants an assessment carried out to see if it would cost more to issue refunds - which would average €165 per household - or to pursue those who haven't paid.

Some 989,000 households did pay some or all of the money owed, with the utility collecting a total of €162.5m.

This means more than 500,000 people ignored all five bills received from Irish Water before charges were suspended in May.

The Irish Independent has learned that no effort has been made to encourage or force these people to settle their debts since the formation of the Government.

"Irish Water has not communicated directly with customers regarding their bills since the suspension of domestic charging," a spokesperson confirmed.

Labour Party TD Willie Penrose is set to table legislation that if passed by the Oireachtas would force Irish Water to give billpayers their money back.

Failing that, Mr Penrose, who is a barrister, is prepared to put together a legal team that would lead a class action in the courts.

"It's important that a situation is not created where compliant taxpayers are left feeling mugged," he said.

Mr Coveney said the way forward would have to be decided by the Oireachtas Committee which would study the Expert Commission report.

"If you have a charge or a tax that is national policy and the law then I think it's a very dangerous precedent to simply set that aside because it's an awkward political issue.

"People who didn't pay should be asked to pay. We need to design a system that can allow them to do that over time and that doesn't put anybody under financial pressure," he said.

But at last night's meeting junior minister Catherine Byrne was said to have become emotional as she demanded that refunds be paid.

Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell warned the party would lose votes if it did not issue refunds.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are also assessing how to react to a section of the report which states that people in group water schemes and with private wells need to be compensated.

"Equity with the proposed arrangements for consumers on public supplies must be maintained for those who are not served by public water supplies," it stated.

Mr Coveney suggested that Brendan O'Mahony, who is chair of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and was on the Expert Commission, should be invited to appear before the special Oireachtas committee on water.

"Many people in rural Ireland have always paid for water and the infrastructure they might need. Let's see what the committee come up with on that," he said. 

Source: Irish Independent 

Report on the Funding of Domestic Public Water Services in Ireland

This is the full report from the Government appointed ‘Expert Domestic Water Commission’ at a cost of €280,000. It will now go to another committee, this time a SelectOireachtas Committee which presumably will incur more costs. This committee of 20 TD s will deliberate until March 2017, after which their findings will go before the Dáil and a vote taken.

Commission says ‘vast majority’ should no longer pay for water

Group says enshrining Irish Water in public ownership should be considered

Parteen Weir on Lough Derg. Photograph: Alan Betson

Parteen Weir on Lough Derg. Photograph: Alan Betson

by Fiach Kelly

An allowance for domestic water use should be calculated on the basis of the number of people living in the home, the commission on water charges has said.

Under its proposals, the commission says the “vast majority” of people will no longer have to pay water charges.

The final report of the Expert Commission on Domestic Water Services will be published on Tuesday, earlier than expected.

It also says the commission is “satisfied” its recommendations will comply with European Union law and water directives.

The commission questions the rollout of water meters, which cost more than €500 million to install,and says that a referendum enshrining Irish Water in public ownership should be considered.

The final report says normal water usage for households should be paid through general taxation, with a charge being levied for “wasteful” usage.

“Water is essential for human life,” it says. “It is expensive to produce water for consumption, to treat wastewater, and to renew infrastructure. Therefore, water services must be paid for – through taxation, tariffs, or some combination of both.”

It adds, however: “Not having a specific charge for water does not mean that water does not have to be paid for by the citizen.

“Having considered various options and the background to the current situation, the Expert Commission has reached the conclusion that the optimal arrangement that should now be put in place is one that involves the funding of water services, for normal domestic and personal use, as a charge against taxation. The system should be predicated on an acceptance that access to adequate clean water for living requirements should not be determined by affordability.

“A distinction must, however, be made between a right to water for normal domestic and personal purposes and wasteful usage. The former can reasonably be regarded as a public service that should be funded out of taxation and which the State should provide for all citizens. Where water is used at a level above those normal requirements, that principle is no longer applicable and the user should pay for this use through tariffs.”

Each home will receive an allowance “that corresponds to the accepted level of usage required for domestic and personal needs. This allowance should be related to the number of persons resident in the household and adjusted for special conditions.”

Two options for determining normal use should be considered. One is that “the standard uses for domestic water consumption relate to personal washing, toilet flushing, drinking, cooking, clothes washing, dishwashing, waste disposal, and house cleaning”.

“A more detailed analysis should be carried out to establish the precise levels of allowance to be made available, based on analysis of consumption patterns for different occupancy households.”

Another approach would be to “ determine the level of water required for normal domestic and personal needs by reference to current per capita usage adjusted to reflect estimated excessive or wasteful use”.

“On this model, an allowance could be set at a level that corresponds to the actual consumption of a significant proportion of water users (say, for illustrative purposes, 80-90 per cent of users or at, say, 150 per cent of average domestic consumption). The allowance could be regularly reviewed and, if necessary, adjusted to reflect changes in water use patterns in Ireland. ”

On the issue of water meters, it says: “While benefits have accrued from the metering programme already undertaken in detecting leaks and monitoring patters of water usage, the question of whether to continue the metering programme in one of policy and is outside the Expert Commission’s terms of reference. If it is decided to proceed with the metering programme, consideration should be given to an approach that is more aligned with the proposals in this report, with a focus on district meters, metering of buildings in the case of multi occupancy, or metering of households on request.”

It also raises the prospect of higher taxes to pay for this method of funding of water services.

“The recommended funding model, if implemented, will place the main burden of financing the operational costs of providing domestic water services on the exchequer to be paid for through taxation. The question of whether there should be a dedicated tax, a broadly-based fiscal instrument, or an adjustment to existing taxes to fund this requirement would be a matter of budgetary policy and outside the scope of this report, but is worthy of further consideration.”

Special exemptions for those with medical conditions and others who require “high water usage should be maintained”.

Source: Irish Times, Nov 29, 2016