What future for water charges? Key committee starts work today

What future for water charges? Key committee starts work today

A group of TDs and Senators will today start the process of deciding the future of water charges.

The special Oireachtas committee has to come up with a final recommendation for the Dáil and Seanad to turn into law.

The committee will hold its first public meeting today, as it sets about the process of making a final recommendation on water charges.

To do that, it will pull apart the report of the expert group set up under the deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

That group suggested that most households would not have to pay, and that only wasteful homes would face bills.

However, that is only a recommendation; ultimately, it is up to the politicians to decide what kind of system Ireland should have.

Kevin Duffy, the chairman of the independent commission on water charges that compiled the report, will face the questions from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, AAA-PBP, Greens and Independent TDs during a three-hour meeting this afternoon.

The meeting, to be chaired by Independent senator Padraig Ó Céidigh, is the first in a series of public meetings scheduled for between today and March, at which point the new committee will be asked to recommend to the Dáil whether water charges should return or be scrapped entirely.

While future meetings will examine public ownership (January 12 and February 2), funding (January 19 and March 2), metering (January 26), and whether to give payers refunds or pursue non-payers (February 23), today’s discussion is likely to see Mr Duffy put under pressure to explain why charges should remain.

The meeting will take place after Ireland’s energy watchdog last night warned Irish Water its revenue, operating and capital cost ceilings will be reduced by €429m over the next two years.

In a scheduled statement released after the Irish Examiner yesterday revealed Irish Water has already cost the taxpayer €2.143bn since it was set up in late 2014, the CER said the rate will have to be significantly reduced for “efficiency” drive reasons.

While not directly addressing the €2.143bn expenditure to date, the watchdog group said it would have to cut “allowed revenue” returns by €165m, operating costs by €128m and capital costs by €136m by the end of 2018.

Although not providing an opinion on whether water charges will need to continue in order to help fund Irish Water, the CER statement said it anticipated the utilities budget would continue to come from “a mix of funding sources”.

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