Thursday 27 October 2016

Sinead Ryan: Why should I pay my two water bills without a grant?

Protesters on O'Connell Street, Dublin, during a demonstration against water charges. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Protesters on O'Connell Street, Dublin, during a demonstration against water charges. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
You must be registered for bills via www.water.ie or by calling 1890 448 448.

I'm LOOKING at two Irish Water bills on my kitchen table, neither of which I've paid.

They sit beside the smug gas and electricity ones which have breathed a sigh of relief that their owner has coughed up.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not normally given to anarchy. You won't find me chaining myself to the railings of Leinster House, or pinning a Government Minister in her car as she tries to go about her business. I'm even in favour of water charges, which these days, is a bit anarchic in itself.

The reason I haven't paid is that I'm carrying out a bit of empirical research, an experiment to test the system.

It's high rolling stakes here - after all, I'm breaking the law (technically) although in the grand Irish system that we have, it'll not be a bit of bother because nobody can do anything about it, even if I run down the street waving the unpaid bills about (although that may attract a different form of attention).

I've registered with Irish Water; I did so when I was asked and will, at some point, pay my bills. Water is the scarcest of utilities and we should all pay (yes, even twice) and anything which prevents profligate waste is a good thing.

I also recognise that sometimes we need the stick rather than carrot approach and am very proud of the fact that a firm State hand led to things like the plastic bag tax and the smoking ban.

We're all for that now, right? We all adapted, and the sky didn't fall in. Most of us even shudder when we go abroad and see supermarkets bandying about plastic bags like confetti or smoke in pubs. What were we thinking?

So, in principle, and indeed at some point, in practice, Irish Water will get paid by me. In the meantime, I am waiting for my so-called Conservation Grant.


I won't be using it to buy a water butt or rainwater collector or diffusing faucets. I will put it towards the Irish Water bill, because that's what it's for.

But the system to dispense it won't be in place before October as it wasn't set up, it's run by a different Department and nobody thought it was going to be needed.

By 'nobody' I mean, naturally, nobody in Government.

So, when I get paid, they get paid, simple as that. So, for the moment I can find lots of interesting information on my bill.

For instance, I see that between January and March I used 18.372 m2 of water. But April to June we improved the old washing habits and it was 23.811 m2.

I look forward to the third bill, and the fourth by which time, one hopes, the Department of the Environment's computers will have talked to the Department of Social Protection's computers and they'll grant me my grant.

Except that's not what's happening. I'll get my grant whether or not I pay. Some €25m of it will go to people who aren't even customers of Irish Water.

Think about that. It defies logic. It's being divvied out like Child Benefit except even they check whether you have a child or not for that.

They issued four 'final' deadlines to sign up and even then loads didn't.

Now, I'm glad I bided my time. Eurostat's diktat that the whole thing is a codology means the €600m being spent on water services can't be spent as Irish Water failed a Market Corporation Test.

It's either a commercial entity or it's not. Turns out, it's not.

The Grant isn't even a grant either, and it's definitely not for water conservation.

I expect if the Government had billed it as a shoe-buying-grant, or a bit-of-a-do-at-the-hairdresser-grant they'd have had better luck.

The whole thing now has to go back on the State's books. Mr Noonan has adopted his 'nothing to see here' face and told us all this was "no crisis". Okay then.

The loss has already been built into budget estimates so there'll be no impact on this October's Budget, but it does make you think the surprise decision can't have been that much of a shocker.

The bigger question now is whether Irish Water can remain in existence at all. What is its purpose now? Have we just created the biggest white elephant since the e-voting machines?

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