TAXPAYERS may soon be hit with another financial blow after Environment Minister John Gormley hinted that domestic water charges could be re-introduced to tackle the growing scarcity of water supplies.
Mr Gormley said it was his personal view that the issue of charging for water would have to be addressed, as climate change meant Ireland could expect greater periods of drought in the future.
However, he stressed that the Government would make no policy decision on any re-introduction of domestic water charges until the report of the Commission on Taxation — which is examining the funding of local authorities as part of its remit — is published later this year.
Mr Gormley said the question of charging households for delivering water supplies would have to be faced as far more attention needed to be given to the issue of water conservation, water recycling and rainwater retention.
The minister warned water supplies in some parts of the country were already precarious and the problem of delivering safe water would become more difficult and expensive.
Local authorities in Dublin have already drawn up controversial €600m plans to pump water from the River Shannon to ease pressure on the city’s water system, which needs an extra 300 million litres of water per day to keep up with rising demand.
However, Mr Gormley said there was no question of the Government supporting the privatisation of water supplies as they were safeguarded by legislation.
His remarks come after a report by the Environmental Protection Agency published earlier this week warned that Ireland will undergo significant climate changes over the remainder of the 21st century, with Munster and Leinster likely to experience greater periods of drought.
The EPA report said more extreme weather which would bring regular flooding as well as longer heat waves could be expected over the coming decades as a result of global warming.
However, Labour local government spokesman Ciaran Lynch said any suggestion that the re-introduction of domestic water charges was inevitable would create alarm among hard-pressed householders already suffering financial cutbacks.
Earlier this year, the European Environment Agency called for all water use across the EU to be metered and charged as a study showed annual water consumption of the average European citizen amounted to the equivalent of two Olympic-size swimming pools.
Domestic water charges were a controversial method of taxation used by local authorities until they were abolished in January 1997. However, commercial rates still apply to businesses, while members of group water schemes also pay.
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