Leaked water charges cause havoc at cabinet
AFTER details of the proposed water charges were leaked to the media last week, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore had all the appearance of being hurt and upset about important State business being “trawled in the media” before the Labour Party had a chance to get a word in at the Cabinet table.
This turned into a fully fledged row at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting where water charges were discussed but, according to one Fine Gael commentator, the Labour lads were just “spooked’ by the prospect of water charges affecting their chances” in the forthcoming local elections.
It was described as the most serious disagreement to date between the coalition partners. That’s a hard call though. With as much bickering going on between the Government partners these days it’s difficult to distinguish the serious rows from the mere lovers’ tiffs.
Still it was clearly a case of the little guys getting the dirty end of the stick – standard practice in Irish political partnerships.
Of course the Labour members aren’t the only little guys getting picked on when it comes to water charges. Those with real cause to feel hurt, left in the dark and excluded from the decision making process are the householders who will be forced to pay for water from next January.
The exact charges haven’t been finalised yet but it looks like householders will pay an average of €240 euro a year if their water consumption is metered. There will be a €50 euro a year standing charge for having a water meter, which mirrors the ESB’s standing charge structure.
That much is reasonably clear but from there things start to get complicated.
By the time charges come into effect only 400,000 of the 1.35 million households in the State will have been fitted with water meters. However, they won’t dodge the bills just because Irish Water couldn’t get the job done on time. Instead they will be charged up to €70 a year more than the average charge – the exact amount depending on whether they live in a terraced, semidetached or detached house.
Put simply, this is a system that penalises householders for the failure of the Government to ensure water meters were fitted before charges were levied. Bizarrely, it also means that a person living in Dublin 4 luxury, with water sprinklers on the impeccable lawn, would effectively pay less for water than a person living at the end of a country boithrín.
It seems there will also be an arcane system of water allowances which will basically give a certain minimal ration of ‘free’ water, but structured in such a way that children will have a higher allowance.
There are sound environmental reasons for conserving water on a global level, but they have nothing to do with the Government strategy of charging for water in a country that enjoys a lavish abundance of rainfall. What we’re looking at here, plain and simple, is yet another stealth tax designed to squeeze another drop out of the nation’s parched taxpayers.
No amount of spin will convince people otherwise so, yes, Labour Party local election candidates have good reason to be ‘ spooked’. The only wonder would be if Fine Gael candidates aren’t equally spooked. A poor grasp of reality perhaps?