People who fail to pay their household water bills will not be pursued in the courts, Irish Water boss John Tierney pledged last night as those calling for a boycott claimed it will be difficult for the Government to penalise non-payers.
The compliance measures announced as part of the revised pricing regime were further undermined after landlords said they will take legal advice on whether they should be responsible for deducting unpaid water charges from the deposits of their tenants.
With the big test of the new plans likely to be determined by how many households sign up for the charge by the February deadline, Mr Tierney said the company is “aiming for maximum compliance”.
He said the charges are now “very, very affordable” and there will be “no need for anybody to end up in a situation where there’s an add-on payment or we have to use the penalty provisions”. Mr Tierney said the company will be “helping people to pay what is a very affordable charge” and that “we don’t envisage a situation whereby we will have to be taking people to court”.
As of the end of last week, some 869,000 Irish Water registration packs had been returned out of around 2m households. The company has refused to say how many of these were compliant and how many were stating their refusal to pay.
Socialist TD Paul Murphy, who is calling for a mass boycott of the charge, said that if half of households refuse to pay, “it would be extremely difficult for any government to impose penalties on people” and the issue would therefore become central to the next general election.
Under the plans, fines of €30 for a single-person household and €60 for a household of more than two will apply three months after the year of non-payment.
Independent TD Róisín Shortall said penalties will not kick in until April 2016, leading people to “hang on and not bother paying” until then.
This will result in Irish Water not generating enough revenue and lacking in investor confidence needed when it seeks to borrow, she said.
A Government TD who compared water-charge protesters to Islamist militants received a death threat to his office last night. Earlier in the Dáil, Tipperary North Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan said Ireland faces a potential “Isis situation” if water protests are allowed to escalate. Mr Coonan said a caller threatened to kill him and his secretary.
A number of economists have meanwhile said huge investment is needed in the country’s water infrastructure and the Government may have bottled the chance to raise these funds. Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, UCC economist Seamus Coffey said: “Huge expenditure is needed to bring the water network up to scratch but it’s not clear where the money will come from.”
There was some confusion over whether Irish Water will pass a critical test of EU rules which will determine whether it will be capable of borrowing on the markets as an independent company.
TDs last night voted in favour of the new measures following two days of Dáil debate in which the Government came under criticism from some Fine Gael TDs. Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, said if ministers had listened to backbenchers, the Government would not have found itself in such difficulty.
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