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Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

We now have a 'drop dead date' for Irish Water registration

Meanwhile, proposals to deduct unpaid water charges from income are being slammed.

Updated 8.35pm 

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER Alan Kelly has said 30 June will be the deadline for registering with Irish Water in order to be eligible to receive the water conservation grant this year.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Kelly said the Department of Social Protection, which will begin paying out the grant in September, will contact households about this issue from July onwards.

“The final date of 30 June for 2015 payments has been chosen taking account of the fact that there will be some changes in residency up to that point,” Kelly said.

He added that further details “will follow throughout the month of April”.

Kelly made the comments during a debate on a Technical Group motion on water charges in the Dáil tonight.

In his speech, he said the revised charges are “among the lowest levels in Europe”.

“If we look across the water at households in England and Wales, for example, we see that households there are paying an average charge of €540 per year during 2014-2015.”

It was confirmed in November that two capped rates would be in place until 1 January 2019: €60 per year for a one-adult household or €160 per year for other households (when the €100 rebate is included).

Kelly said Irish Water will create jobs and lead to a better water service for citizens.

He added the “economic cost” to a water shortage would be €78 million a day.

Kelly said “one issue where there is near unanimous agreement on both sides of this House is the imperative to keep water services and infrastructure in public ownership”.

Speaking during the debate, Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger said mass non-payment is “absolutely key to abolishing water charges”.

Deducting charge from wages

Earlier today, proposals to deduct water charges from people’s income have been heavily criticised today.

It’s emerged that the government is considering taking unpaid water bills from people’s wages or social welfare payments if they refuse to pay.

The measures being considered would make a distinction between those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay and any deduction would not realistically happen until mid-2016.

“With this approach Minister Kelly is signing a death warrant for the Labour party, a party that was elected on a platform of opposing water charges,” Socialist TD Paul Murphy said on Morning Ireland this morning.

At a press conference in Dublin this afternoon, Murphy suggested that Labour could return zero seats at the next general election if it pursues this policy:

I think there’s almost no limit to which the water charges could do damage in particular to the Labour party. The Labour party could come back with zero seats in the next Dáil or two seats or three seats or four seats, that’s a real possibility.

According to the Irish Independent, a householder who refuses to engage with Irish Water could be taken to court and the charge could be registered against the property. This means it could not be sold until the debt is paid.

Murphy said the fact that no penalties would apply until July 2016 – when a fine of up to €60 could be added to a household’s water bill – was indicative of the government not being confident in its approach.

He said that water charges would be “beaten through as strategy of non-payment” and said at a press conference this morning that “nobody would be abandoned” if they refuse to pay.

Murphy, a TD for Dublin South-West said that Labour had no mandate to impose water charges given it had pledged to oppose them before the last election.

When it was pointed out to him that Fine Gael favoured water charges before the last election he acknowledged this was “correct in a sense”. He added:

Everybody knows there is a majority opposed to water charges.

Asked for alternative ways to fund the provision of water, Murphy claimed a financial transaction tax would raise €500 million.

Speaking on Claire Byrne Live last night, Kelly would not rule out the idea that water charges would be taken from people’s income.

“I’m not going to pour cold water on it for the simple reason that is this, from an equity and a fairness point of view, you know we’ve 66-67% of people who have signed up and that needs to be respected,” he told the programme.

Speaking at Leinster House today, Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said he was surprised by the news emerging today, recalling that Labour senator Lorraine Higgins had suggested this could happen earlier in the year.

“She was ridiculed and abhorred by her colleagues and her partners in government at the time. It now appears that this was being considered and listening to government party members this week it is very much on the table,” Cowen said.

He said this showed that water charges are now “a full-blown tax” that takes no consideration of people’s ability to pay.

Kenny: I support Kelly

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams raised the issue during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this afternoon.

When Adams asked Enda Kenny if he supports the environment minister, the Taoiseach said: ”I do support Alan Kelly and what he is trying to do.”

Kenny added that Kelly hasn’t brought his proposals to cabinet for consideration yet, but will do so “in the near future”.

He said over one million people have now registered with Irish Water, adding he hoped “many more” will follow suit.

Kenny described water as “a precious commodity” that “requires investment”.

When Adams asked why no notes were made at meetings between Bord Gáis and members of the government during the set-up of during Irish Water, Kenny said Kelly has “answered questions all along” about this.

He added that the Commission for Energy Regulation has signed off on the utility’s cost structure and financial projections.

Additional reporting: Órla Ryan

Read: Labour TD calls Gerry Adams ‘a sponger’ for not paying water charges

Read: Plan to take water charges from wages a ‘bullying’ tactic – Murphy

The story of ‘NO’: 15 moments that have defined the Irish Water protest movement 

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