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

  • the rich get richer

    Who would have thought that Water could create such problems in Ireland .

    Is it a scarce commodity .

    It would only be further proof that the EU has lost the run of itself if it tells sovereign countries whether it can withdraw charges for water if it please’s .

    Sovereign countries should be allowed to wallow in their own plentiful supply of water if they so please.

    British-ers and Irish-ers that have a vote on such matters should wash this Elite Benefiting out of control Bully out of its affairs .

  • Croiteir

    I can remember Mary Harney pointing this out years ago

  • Jag

    All is lost, you are defeated, zere is no escape. Come out with your hands in the air now Tommy!

    Irish Water has given new meaning to the term “farce”; that anyone would give credit to this latest strategic leak is lamentable, but I suppose you use a 4-syllable word like “derogation” with some people and you’ll get their attention.

    It has already been established that Irish Water charges cover one thing, and one thing only, the cost of collecting the water charges. Commonsense tells you that abolishing water charges in such circumstances is logical. As for fearsome “derogations”, the EU do them all the time, just ask France and Germany.

    Tens of thousands of the already small base of payers (47-60% depending on who you believe) have cancelled their direct debits. IW seem to have stopped sending out chasing letters. FF want IW abolished, as do nearly all the rest, apart from FG (okay Labour is recently mixed on the subject and the 2 Greens are in favour but around 100 of the 158 want it abolished).FF say they want existing bills paid, but it is also the FF position that there be an ability to pay, and if you consider the Credit Union research that most households don’t have enough to pay, then what’s the use of even chasing them.

    IW is dead and gone, it’s joined romance in O’Leary’s grave.

  • chrisjones2

    Another example if one were needed of the impact of staying in the EU

    Your elected – or even unelected – Government has no power to do anything even if the electorate wills otherwise

    Brussels dictates.

    Ironic that this comes up again on the 100th Anniversary of the Rising but this time you cannot even blame the Brits. You sold yourselves into this system

  • chrisjones2

    “Is it a scarce commodity .”

    Yes ….in Greece, Italy, Spain and bits of France and that is what dictates policy

  • mickfealty

    A derogation did exist, but not for retrograde movements on the matter. Fascinating interview with Varofakis in the FT at the weekend. He sounded rather unsure of how much he was right about less than a year ago.

    Like I say, I think there’s scope for flexibility with a credible plan. But as the EU has proven over Greece it will have no compunction but to act if a smaller nation thinks it can willfully to unravel its directives without penalty.

    A credible plan would not include abandonment of water charges on a permanent basis…

  • the rich get richer

    Its probably just another level up of ridiculous-ness having this Island ruled by Europe as it was been ruled by Britain.

    On second thought it is quiet a few levels up of ridiculous-ness .

    Is it too late for a 2016 against the EU.

    I can’t imagine the participants of 1916 would be overly happy being ruled over by a European Banking Elite with their Political Pimps .

  • Thomas Barber

    “A credible plan would not include abandonment of water charges on a permanent basis…”

    Indeed Mick and with the support of Sinn Fein too who see no alternative to Irish Water and will abide by the wishes of their EU masters.

    At least we wont be as bad as Turkey when they are admitted to the EU surely they will have to pay for their sand.

  • Anglo-Irish

    The middle east has become rich by exporting oil, people can live without oil but no one can live without water.

    So, water pipelines from Ireland to the mainland of Europe would seem to be the way to go.

  • Hugh Davison

    Skipping the racism in your opening para, how is that swimming pool of yours coming on? Do you flush it every day? If not, why not? After all, my car tax is paying for it, or so they tell me.

  • Jag

    I think you’ll find your car tax and mine have been used to fund the €550m useless water metering programme, the establishment of IW which includes €100m+ of consultancy cost and the ongoing operations of IW, because the only thing the charges will fund is the collection of the charges.

    IW is, as it always has been, funded by general taxation which includes income tax (and car tax!).

  • Jag

    “a credible plan would not include abandonment of water charges on a permanent basis…”

    What, like we have in NI?

    SF protested yesterday at the strategic leaking of the IW legal advice, and have called for the full advice to be published.

    “Our view is that there is nothing to stop Ireland from using the derogation and we have that in black and white from the EU Commission.”

    Normally, you’d treat SF claims with caution, but in a credibility match with Irish Water, SF wins hands down.

  • Hugh Davison

    Will that be clean, piped sand? Will the Turks be getting their sand from Egypt or from their beaches?

  • Hugh Davison

    I lived for many years in NL, perhaps the wettest country in Europe. We had domestic meters since about 1983. No-one had any problem with water charges. The Dutch are probably more aware of the ecological significance of proper water infrastructure and supply than we are.

  • mickfealty

    NI Water keeps the derogation because it hasn’t yet moved. The Republic has. That’s the difference.

  • kensei

    Bit of a difference between a potential default and having some alternative model for water charges.

    Given the strength of opposition to water charges, the fact that no charging is an accepted model in the EU and the fact the EU has enough problems on its hands at the moment, I suspect if some fudge could be divided a derogation would be given.

    You might be right if course, and the EU will roll Ireland as it did Greece over a comparatively minor matter in a fashion that will.be noted and reported in the middle of the Brexit campaign. But it smells a bit like hyperbole.