herald

Saturday 1 October 2016

€15m collapse in water charge payments since new Government formed

Anti-water charge protesters take to the streets of Dublin Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Anti-water charge protesters take to the streets of Dublin Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Payment of water bills collapsed by €15m in the wake of the Government's decision to set up a commission into whether charges should be abolished.

Irish Water is now facing a serious funding shortfall which will be have to filled from general taxation as no more bills will be issued this year.

The company has revealed it collected €18.3m during the fifth billing cycle, which covered the period between January and March.

This is almost half of the €33.4m collected for the final three months of 2015.

Bills for the first quarter of 2016 were issued in April and May, just as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were negotiating the deal which resulted in the formation of Enda Kenny's minority government.

In order to secure Fianna Fail's tacit support, the Taoiseach agreed to set up a commission, which will take five months to study a variety of funding models.

However, it has already been mired in controversy after chairman Joe O'Toole resigned as opposition parties complained he was not impartial.

The commission's report will be debated by an Oireachtas committee before the Dail votes on its recommendations.

In total 989,000 households have paid water charges at some stage over the past five billing cycles. This includes 14,000 new customers this year.

However, Irish Water refuses to reveal the breakdown of how many households have paid their bills in each cycle.

In a statement, the company said that it has been reassured that any shortfall due to the suspension of charges will be covered by the Exchequer.

"This will allow Irish Water to continue to deliver on its business plan," it said, adding the customers remain liable for any outstanding amounts due.

"There is no change to water service charges for business customers as they are unaffected by the suspension of domestic water charges," the company said.

Irish Water plans to spend €5.5bn between 2013 and 2021 on the network, including upgrading and replacing plants, water mains and sewers, and eliminating leaks and lead piping.

Boycott

Reacting to the figures, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Mick Barry said they show a widespread boycott.

"This is a massive rejection of the charges, and people sending a clear message to the government and Simon Coveney that they want to see them scrapped.

"Over the last 18 months we have said that there were many people who only paid because they felt bullied or intimidated into it by the Government and Irish Water's threats.

"Now that the fear is gone, this level of non-payment reflects how people really feel on the issue," he said.

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