THE Government is considering fixing a flat rate of water charges - and maintaining it for up to another four years until 2018.
The Government's senior ministerial team were due to meet this afternoon to consider how to defuse the row over the introduction of water charges which saw 150,000 people take to the streets last weekend.
But confusion has intensified as other Government figures have cast serious doubt over statements by Labour leader Joan Burton that a family of four, including two adult children, would pay less than €200 per year.
Also today, Finance Minister Michael Noonan told the Dail that using the Revenue Commissioners to collect water charges had "not been ruled out".
But senior Government officials have said that this poses huge problems and is "unlikely to happen".
As Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Joan Burton, and Finance and Public Spending Ministers Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, prepared to meet this afternoon, sources said a fixed flat rate of charge is under consideration.
Whatever tariff is agreed was to be fixed until end 2016 - but an extension of that timeframe, perhaps until 2018, is also being looked at.
In the Dail yesterday, Ms Burton said a family of four adults will pay less than €200 per year in water charges.
But other sources said the €200 figure was an "underestimation" and it was premature to be attaching a figure to ongoing deliberations.
The Labour Party leader made the announcement during a heated exchange with Socialist Joe Higgins.
Mr Higgins said Ms Burton wanted a family of four, including an 18 and 19-year-old, to pay just under €500 per year, and a family of five to pay under €600.
Ms Burton accused Mr Higgins of scaremongering.
"I am perfectly happy to say that it is my view that the charge in relation to the type of family you have indicated will be below €200," she said.
A spokesman for Ms Burton later said she was expressing a personal view when she mentioned the €200 figure.
He added that there was no division between the two coalition parties on the issue and that the €200 mentioned by the Tanaiste was the potential amount after tax concessions were taken into account in the case of workers, and extra welfare payments in the case of those on social welfare.
A spokesman for the Taoiseach distanced Fine Gael from the Tanaiste's estimate.
"No decisions have yet been made on this," Mr Kenny's spokesman said.
Earlier, the Taoiseach utterly rejected suggestions from Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, that given weekend protests which brought 150,000 people on to the streets, it was time to "step down" Irish Water.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly said the Government is not budging on the issue of customers handing over their PPS numbers. He said PPS numbers were necessary for water allowance allocation.