Water charges to become an intractable feature of the Republic’s future landscape?

Post-election, Irish Water is playing something of a rearguard action. In its own legal advice was leaked to the Irish Times suggests that any wriggle room for getting rid of Water Charges has disappeared…

“The benefit of the derogation has been lost for all time, and cannot be revived by seeking to reverse the decision to introduce charges.

“A very limited derogation to this default position is allowed . . . if it is established practice not to recover the costs of water services and where this does not compromise the achievement of the objectives of the directive”

Put shortly, there are no longer any ‘established practices’ in Ireland not to charge for the provision of water services.”

Arthur Beesley further comments..

It was clear that the exemption “was only intended” to allow a member state to continue an established practice of not charging. “Moreover, the Irish State has never sought to invoke the derogation.”

It says the default position in the EU directive is that member states must recover the costs of water services. Water-pricing policies are intended to contribute to environmental objectives, they add.

There was a certain amount of wishful thinking on this matter during the election, especially (although not exclusively) on the left.

The logic of the EU Water Framework Directive is to create transparency around the charging for water, and promote citizen participation in the maintenance of clean water systems.

It’s one reason FF has been careful to call only for a suspension of the charges for the length of the present parliamentary term. Unless the EU implodes upon any putative Brexit, it is inevitable that charges will return.

Irish Water, however, is unlikely to be so lucky. What replaces it is quite another matter. The current state agency model has been hopelessly compromised. The suspicion of sneaking privatisation means a company model would not work either.

My guess is that Fianna Fail’s conservative suggestion that a ‘National Water Authority’ be established o prioritise “development throughout the country” rather than councils “prioritising within their own authorities” is the only real shovel ready alternative.

There may then be a case to argue that the direct charge could be suspended within a limited restructuring period. But it would only be a break. Water production has huge and ongoing overheads.

After years of disinformation, misinformation and no information sharing with the public any new initiative will have to be it clear from the start that infrastructure investment will be expensive, and suspension of charging strictly temporary.

As noted here before, the social and political gap between Dublin’s strategic view of the broader challenges facing the country and the parish’s often miserable experience of them needs careful bridging.

Never more than now…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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