By Fiachra Ó CionnaithIrish Examiner Political Correspondent
The Government is to ask another body to compile data on Irish Water next year, adding yet another layer of management to the utility.
Correspondence between the Department of Environment and the Department of Social Protection in recent weeks shows the groups are to ask the Local Government Management Agency to take responsibility for the latest water charges database in 2016.
Records obtained by RTÉ under the Freedom of Information Act show that the local authority group will be requested to bring together information on people who are paying their water bills and those who are not, before it is examined further by the Department of Social Protection.
The correspondence states that while the level of work involved is challenging, Tánaiste Joan Burton and Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s departments believe the database will be seen as a way of providing more clarity on who is paying the fees and the reasons for those who are not.
However, the move has already led to concerns among the opposition over the fact that yet another group is now involved in the Irish Water dispute and that the introduction of the Local Government Management Agency means local councils will have have to take up a role that was supposed to be removed from them.
“The Local Government Management Agency is the councils, nothing more than that,” said Fianna Fáil environment spokes,an Barry Cowen. “The Taoiseach and other Government members have said all along the reason for setting up Irish Water was to take away responsibility from local authorities, but now they’re being re-engaged, the cost of funding and personnel for it we don’t know.”
When Irish Water was set up, it was widely stated by Mr Kelly, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and a number of other Government ministers that the creation of the new group would help reduce workload pressures on existing local authorities.
An Irish Water spokesperson said the issue is a government matter, while the Departments of Social Protection and Environment did not comment on the planned new database.
The latest chapter in the saga comes just over a week before a mass rally in Dublin on August 29 and after last week’s revelations that 23 protesters, including Socialist TD Paul Murphy, will be charged over an incident last November which saw Ms Burton trapped in her car for several hours.
At the start of the month, EU group Eurostat ruled that Irish Water is not a private firm, weeks after it emerged that fewer than half of those billed has signed up to pay the utility’s fees.
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