IT IS NOT the Government’s intention to cut off people who cannot pay their water charge bill, NewERA Minister Fergus O’Dowd said today.
The Junior Minister made the comment while attending a Seanad hearing on the Water Services Bill, under which water charges are to be brought in. Seanad members put questions on the bill to Minister O’Dowd at the hearing.
Senator David Norris raised concerns about responsibility for fitting water meters, and said that the Government should try to get a bargain price for them. He also questioned if there is a failure of the meters, who is responsible.
He asked if there will be a proposal to cut people off if they can’t pay, and was told by Minister O’Dowd: “It’s not the intention to cut anybody off.”
Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson said that his party was “deeply concerned” about the Bill, considering the “cabinet confusion” about how much people would pay. He said there was a “flawed public consultation” and that “none of this bodes well” for the implementation of the charges.
He also questioned the Minister on whether there will be job losses as result of the setting up of Bord Uisce. Sen Wilson said that bringing the bill before the house now “is putting the cart before the horse”.
Fine Gael Senator Cait Keane welcomed the news and the establishment of Uisce Eireann. She said that people don’t want to know that 34 local authorities are looking after the water charges, but “what they want is satisfaction, a good supply of water coming out of the tap”.
She added that there is “no fairness” if water charges are different.
Senator David Cullinane questioned whether it was fair that a big family on a small income could be paying the same as a small family on a big income. He said that water charges should be funded through general taxation.
Labour Senator John Kelly asked when there was going to be an indication of how much money users will have to pay for these charges, while Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brien said he has grave concerns about how this will impact people working in local authorities.
He also asked about the cost of meters, saying that at first people were told there would be no charge, but due to a loan from the National Pension Reserve Fund of €450 million, “that would be effectively [be] €340 on average cost to the consumer”.
He added he didn’t want “a big foreign conglomerate installing meters”. Fine Gael Senator Michael Comiskey said that it is important that local people and local subcontractors install the meters, and asked for a universal charge for farmers and universal charge for water across the country.
Minister O’Dowd will return later in the week to answer the questions from the Senators.