Confusion still reigns on water grant costs

The Department of Social Protection is still refusing to clarify how much the Government water conservation grant will cost to implement, despite growing pressure for the full expense to be revealed.

A spokesperson for the Government body failed to answer any questions put to it by the Irish Examiner, 24 hours after Tánaiste Joan Burton was accused of deliberately misleading the public over the costs involved.

Correspondence obtained by RTÉ on Thursday showed the department’s secretary general, Niamh O’Donoghue, raised serious concerns over the grant move — which has been labelled a “bribe” by opposition TDs — when it was first announced.

In a letter sent to her Department of Public Expenditure and Reform counterpart, Robert Watt, on November 24 last year, Ms O’Donoghue said the State did not have the money to administer the €100 payment to people who register as Irish Water customers.

“I would once again re-iterate that I do not have scope within the existing allocation to meet this new and additional demand,” she wrote, adding the grant “imposes an additional burden” on the Exchequer that “cannot be accommodated from within the existing resource budget”.

After Mr Burton pointedly failed to provide details on the of money and extra staff needed to administer the fund during leaders questions in the Dáil on Thursday, this newspaper sent a number of questions to her department. They included:

The “rough” costs for administration, extra staff, consultancy and legal issues referenced by Ms O Donoghue.

“Roughly” how many more staff will be needed.

Whether additional funds have been ring-fenced for this since the November letter.

And if Mr Burton and Environment Minister Alan Kelly were aware of the problem when they suggested the cost would be limited to the €130m bill to pay the grant.

However, despite calls for clarity, the department failed to provide further details at the time of going to press, other than to outline why the grant was put in place.

Concerns raised by Fianna Fáil environment spokesperson Barry Cowen during the Dáil debate on Thursday about what measures the Department of Environment or Irish Water are planning to make renters live up to the imminent bills have also failed to be answered.

Last December, landlords group the Irish Property Owners Association told the Irish Examiner it may seek second deposits of up to €1,000 from tenants to cover water charges to ensure they are not left footing the bill.

Meanwhile, a further Irish Water row has re-emerged after it was confirmed the grant will only be given to people if they provide their PPS number — an issue that was a major bone of contention last year.

Irish Water officials said they will have no role in this PPS use, with the department only using the records to keep track of who should receive the fund.

However, the suggestion customers are being tracked through the vital data may cause further damage to the new system’s public image.

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