The new head of an expert commission on water charges says its members will look at an “equitable” model of payment for water and produce a report by the end of the year.
Former trade union leader Joe O’Toole will head an eight-person commission which will calm the contentious issue of charges, which have been suspended for nine months.
Others who will join Mr O’Toole on the commission include experts and officials from water-related services, regulators as well as professionals working with the environment.
Mr O’Toole said he was encouraged by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agreeing to find a solution for water services for the years ahead, to take “the heat out” of the issue.
The former ICTU president said that people were not being charged for water, by using this analogy: “Think of water like the Chinese takeaway. You can go down and pay and buy your meal there. But if you want them to bring it home to you, you pay a little bit extra.
“It’s never the cost of water, it’s the cost of treatment of water and its delivery that comes into it.”
He said this was the conversation that needed to happen, especially with a water system that was “leaking, wasteful and was deteriorating”.
“Nobody can argue but that it needs further funding, so we have to look at that,” said the former senator.
Mr O’Toole said the commission’s role would be to put together a plan regarding water services for now and the future.
“This is what we are paying into it at the moment and this is what it will do.”
Everyone agreed there was “crumbling pipework” and so a range of costs needed to be examined and how they would be funded.
He said people were already paying for water through general taxation. The question now going forward was how much people would pay for, he said.
It has to be “compassionate, equitable, and balanced,” he said of a charging system. Mr O’Toole said water services could be paid for through general taxation, as part of a household charge or a mix of these factors or through other income streams
“There are a variety of approaches that can be looked at with all these and we can tease them all out, one by one by one,” he said in an interview with RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke.
The commission’s work will be done in five months, as determined in the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil government support deal. Its report would be done by the end of the year, he said.
The Department of Housing say the eight members will only receive expenses.
Water charges have been suspended, and water bills will officially stop arriving at households from next week, for a period of nine months.
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