The Coalition is pinning its hopes on a revised set of "modest" and "affordable" water charges to take the heat out of public anger over the issue which spilled over into ugly scenes at fractious weekend protests.
The pricing regime and other measures, to be signed off on by cabinet tomorrow and announced by Environment Minister Alan Kelly on Wednesday, are aimed at bringing the majority of middle-ground opponents around to the idea of paying for water while accepting that more hardened opposition will remain.
The system will require homes to have two separate application processes: One to register with Irish Water and another to apply to the Department of Social Protection to qualify for a €100 universal support payment which is one of the key measures to offset the cost.
Under the plans:
- Bills will be capped for at least three years meaning home owners will know what they have to pay until late 2017;
- One-adult households will pay €76 a year, while the maximum rate for two or more adults will be €200 after a support payment is taken into account;
- Irish Water will no longer request PPS numbers from customers;
- Families will apply to the Department of Social Protection for a payment which will replace the €100 tax credit for workers and welfare allowance to help meet water bills, announced in the budget last month.
Tánaiste Joan Burton said the support payment “will bring the figures to very affordable levels for single households and households where there are two or more people”.
She said the charge would be capped “for a minimum of three years.” In an apparent attempt to take credit for a more common-sense approach to the water charge issue, she said that once she became Tánaiste and became involved in the process, “it just seemed to me from my own business experience as an accountant: ‘Hold on guys, this is all potentially great stuff for everybody, but I don’t think you can do this in this kind of timeframe.’ ”
The changes will be announced following a weekend during which protests against water charges turned more confrontational. As she entered a public event in Tallaght, west Dublin on Saturday, Ms Burton was struck by a water balloon.
She was later forced to abandon her car after it was blocked for more than two hours, and was escorted to safety by gardaí.
The Labour leader told RTÉ Radio that protesters were “rocking the car, banging on the windows, on the doors, on the roof, trying basically to turn it over”.
She said the Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy “was standing at the back with a loudhailer leading the chanting” and called him to rethink his approach.
Mr Murphy insisted the protests were peaceful and blamed any bad behaviour, such as egg-throwing, on “local young fellas” who he said felt “alienated” by the State and gardaí, and that he had tried to stop them.
He said the gardaí “went in heavily” to remove protesters and he himself was “covered in bruises” from being removed from a sit-down protest.
There were further skirmishes last night when Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended an event at Dublin’s Mansion House.
Gardaí held protesters back as his car exited the event.
When Mr Kenny was asked about the treatment of Ms Burton, he said: “It’s not about water, is it?”
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