Homeowners will face no specific charge for excessive use of water or see existing properties metered as part of a deal finally agreed to end the deadlock over funding of water services.
However, owners who refuse to stop wasting water after multiple warnings could face fines.
Fine Gael made a number of concessions during negotiations at the Oireachtas committee on water this week, agreeing there would be no future metering of existing homes or a specific excess charge.
Fianna Fáil’s desire to use existing legislation to satisfy EU law and therefore ensure some penalty remains for water wastage has received legal approval and looks set to be adopted by members.
Committee sources last night said details remain to be ironed out but a report outlining the future of funding water services and any penalties may be ready early next week, before a Dáil vote next month.
It also looks certain that the committee will agree to some form of refunds for households, which could cost over €160m.
While there is still disagreement about what might constitute average usage of water, the decision by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil effectively means there will be no new charging system
Instead, homeowners will only face penalties if they use 70% above the average amount, considered at 133.8 litres per person per day.
This means the new wastage limit would be 227 litres a day — enough to fill an average bath three times.
Government sources said that as average use comes down with conservation methods, the level of wastage at which penalties may apply may also drop.
A spokesperson for Housing Minister Simon Coveney, who oversees water services, said the new system would still mean the 8% of households (71,000) responsible for 32% of water usage could be penalised.
Under draft proposals to adhere to EU laws, the 2007 water legislation will be beefed up and owners will be given a warning initially about reducing wastage of water. If nothing is fixed or usage remains high, an eventual fine may apply, but only after at least six months and two notices.
From now on, only new homes will get domestic meters, members are likely to agree. Fresh leaks will be tracked down by newly placed district metering.
There will be exceptions for usage for some owners, including those with medical needs.
Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin said the committee was close to agreeing the “full abolition” of domestic water charges.
Backlash after FG U-turn on charges
A decision by Fine Gael to abandon any plans for a regular water charging system and instead pay back bills to homeowners has caused a backlash against Housing Minister Simon Coveney.
Fine Gael’s caving into pressure on an Oireachtas Water Committee though was summed up by the minister as a victory for the party.
Party sources said Mr Coveney at the weekly Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in Leinster House last night faced questions, concerns and some criticism about a deal that now looks set to decide the abolition of water charging.
The committee will finalise a report next week where penalties will only be applied to homeowners wasting water after multiple notices and possibly months.
There will be no new phase of domestic metering for existing homes and instead builders will be required to put devices in new builds only.
A system of refunds for the €160m in bills paid is also expected to be determined.
One TD said there was “dissent” at the parliamentary party meeting as members told Mr Coveney Fine Gael may have gone “too far” in conceding ground during negotiations.
According to the source, the minister said it was the “best deal” Fine Gael could have got in the situation. The party had already agreed to a number of compromises on water during the government formation talks.
This included an end to the current or old charging system. Fine Gael sources last night maintained that this was still the case.
Furthermore, a decision by the committee to keep in place Irish Water was seen as a concession by Fianna Fáil during the negotiations.
A separate Fine Gael source confirmed that concerns were also raised with Mr Coveney at the meeting over the issue of home- owners being refunded money.
“What about people who had paid, that was an issue,” a source said.
But party figures were last night framing the deal at the committee as a “victory” for Fine Gael.
Minister Coveney, as well as Dublin South West TD Colm Brophy both outlined how it would adhere to EU laws and still ensure wastage was penalised.
Elsewhere, Fine Gael’s executive council has agreed there will be six regional debates in the Fine Gael leadership race.
Numbers entitled to vote have also been reduced to 20,000 and to be eligible they must be with the party at least two years.
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