In the latest climbdown by the Government on its deeply unpopular water tax, charges are now set to be capped at €160 a year for families while a single adult household will pay an effective €60 rate.
Both figures are lower than expected and are inclusive of the annual €100 rebate payable upon registration with Irish Water.The changes mean Ireland will have one of the cheapest water charges regimes in Europe. Compared to the Europe-wide charges based on a family of four using an average of 15 cubic metres of water a month, the Irish water caps are likely to work out at under €1 per cubic metre, compared to Britain (€3.92 ), Germany (€4.80 ), and France (€3.66 ).
These caps will stay in place until the end of 2018. The Government is expected to enshrine a permanent water charges cap in law in an effort to reassure homeowners water bills will not rise once the existing fixed rates lapse.
However the new capped rates have been described as “a confidence trick” and a “bribe” to get “hard-pressed families into paying this unjust tax”, by Sinn Féin Galway City East councillor Máiréad Farrell.
“This flat rate is only a temporary con-job measure and when the installed water meters come into play the cost of water will spiral,” she warned. “Thousands of people took to the streets on this issue, including thousands in Galway. This demonstration of ‘people power’ was not demanding a lowering of the amount. The people want the water charges scrapped.”
It is understood that homes with meters installed that come in under the capped level will only pay the metered rate in order to promote conservation.
The final water charges plan will be signed off by the Cabinet today and will be unveiled by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly this afternoon. It is expected to include compliance measures such as introducing penalties for those who have not paid their water bills, or entered into a payment plan, for one year and attaching unpaid charges to people’s homes, ensuring the charge would remain if they try to sell the home.
A major concern has been the possibility that controversial quango Irish Water could be privatised over the coming years, resulting in water costs spiralling. Fine Gael-Labour has also sought to allay public concerns on this by bringing forward legislation “so that Irish Water will be retained in public ownership and will never be privatised,” according to An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
However Cllr Farrell said such legislation in itself is no guarantee that Irish Water will remain in public ownership.
“The refusal of the Government to support Sinn Féin’s Constitution Bill to ensure ‘that water services and infrastructure remain in public ownership’ is a clear sign that the intention is to privatise water, just like refuse collection was privatised,” she said.
Independent county councillor James Charity is also highly sceptical of Government claims that Irish Water will not be privatised. Cllr Charity said the entire water taxes issue reveals the political establishment to be “completely out of touch with its citizens”. He said Irish Water “was never required and the undoubted future privatisation of the company will lead to vastly inflated bills being imposed on the most vulnerable and repeatedly targeted sections of our society”.
Call to sign water petition
Galway Sinn Féin is now calling on all city and county councillors, as well as church and community leaders, to sign the Right2Water Petition, which demands that the Government “abolish water charges and respect our human right to water”.
City councillor Anna Marley and Connemara councillor Tom Healy issued a joint statement this week asking their colleagues to commit fully to the anti-water charges campaign. “We already pay for water services through central taxation and we should not be forced to pay again in order to fund the toxic entity that is Irish Water,” said Cllr Marley.
The online petition can be accessed at http://right2water.ie/actnow. A PDF of the petition can be downloaded at the same link for those who would prefer to print out a hard copy and then sign.