PAUL MILLS: Paul Mills: Need to save pricey water

The problem with kicking the can up the street is that sooner or later you arrive at the end of the street. The political instinct is to try and find another street to kick the can up again.

Given the ticking time bomb that water charges have become, having to make any sort of decision in the near future on the issue could be equal to committing political hara-kiri.

On RTÉ’s Drivetime on Tuesday Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson Barry Cowen tried his best to kick the can way up the street.

His boss Micheál Martin, isn’t much better and neither are those few in Fine Gael who have anything to say on the issue. The last thing any of these guys needs is an election. It’s even worse for the new non-Fine Gael, independent Ministers.

They will want to hang on as long as possible to achieve the golden grail of the ministerial pension. If they do make the magic years it will be the hardest grind any of them will have ever had to do. The first one of three hurdles and the Government’s is looming.

The Expert Commission set up to review Irish Water is close to delivering its findings which an Oireachtas committee will review. Will it duck the issue or will it give the Cabinet wriggle room?

The terms of reference mean the commission will assess and make recommendations on the funding of domestic water services and improvements in water quality. It will take into account the maintenance and investment needs.

It will include proposals on how the national utility in State ownership would be able to borrow to invest in water infrastructure, presumably taking into account the requirements of the EU to ensure that the borrowed funds can be kept off our national balance sheet.

It will also consider the need to encourage water conservation. It’s a lot of work for an eight-member committee.

The last thing they should do is to hedge their bets and take into account the political dilemma facing the Government. Saying we should not pay for water is like saying we should get our electricity, gas, and petrol for free.

The argument that we already pay for water and effluent treatment through our taxes carries no water. Excuse the pun. There’s an old axiom that if it costs nothing it’s worth nothing. Those who conserve water will continue to do it; those who do not will not do it unless there is a cost related to not doing.

The Government can kick the can down the road all they like, but it will not solve this issue.

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