“what you would have paid if it wasn’t for the fact that water charges had been cancelled.”

This rough recording is from RTE’s Late Debate programme from last Tuesday. In it Deputy Pearse Doherty outlines how he thinks water is not charged for in Northern Ireland.

“They actually get a notice every year which says this is the amount you would have paid if it wasn’t for the fact that water charges had been cancelled.”

Except that the ‘notice’ Pearse mentions is in fact the local rate bill which informs householders in Northern Ireland which part of the money they are being charged for actually goes towards the paying for water.

Pearse is correct when he said that his party’s northern Minister for Regional Development ended contractual arranges for the collection of a separate domestic water rate.

But nothing the party did or did not do changes the fact that in Northern Ireland there is a charge levied to domestic households.

In fact the EU Water Framework Directive arose from an number of consultations, not least a major water conference back in 1996. It made two recommendations that are relevant to the current issue of charging for water, north and south:

  • getting the prices right
  • getting the citizen involved more closely

The arrangements in Northern Ireland don’t explain how the money is spent on water. It’s merely an item on the bill, with little evidence of tracking of costs or accountability for how ratepayer’s money is spent.

So it charges, but does not involve any citizens in the process of managing a scarce resource. But it’s also hard to see how water charges have been cancelled when it is so clearly marked on the bill…

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