Local authority tenants face the threat of eviction for failing to pay water charges.
A row erupted yesterday in the Dáil between Tánaiste Joan Burton and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.
Ms McDonald produced a letter from Wicklow County Council which stated that recipients of rent supplement, under the Rental Accommodation Scheme, could be forced out of their homes for not paying water bills.
Some 36,000 families are on the scheme, overseen by the Ms Burton’s Department of Social Protection.
Ms McDonald said: “Not only do we have a threat to the supply of water and of potential court action, we also discover that the very roof over people’s heads may be in jeopardy.”
Ms Burton replied that Sinn Féin effectively had control of Wicklow council with its councillors, and that the party should speak to council management.
“I ask the deputy to pick up the telephone and ask them to speak to their manager,” said Ms Burton.
She also said councillors should advise some families in Wicklow to try and conserve water by not using it in gardens.
Recipients of rent supplement would also have water charges capped, she said.
However, Ms McDonald said the inability of RAS tenants to pay the charge could jeopardise their homes.
She dismissed claims that her party ran Wicklow Co Council and said local authority management enforced government policy.
Ms Burton also defended the cost paid to set up both the billing scheme and the semi-state Irish Water.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it had cost €650m to set up but, after discounts and allowances for water users, the utility company may only collect €150m from households.
“Is it worth it? Is the establishment of Irish Water worth all of the challenges and the extraordinary expense involved in setting up a gold-plated bureaucracy?” Mr Martin asked.
He asked if €5m paid this year in bonuses to Ervia — parent group of Irish Water — had gone to staff handling charges.
Ervia told Fianna Fáil that €5.14m was paid to 940 staff this year and €3.74m to 545 last year.
However, Irish Water yesterday insisted none of its staff received bonuses this year and the payments had gone instead to staff with Bord Gáis, also under Ervia.
Ms Burton defended the setting up of Irish Water, saying it was comparable to establishing the ESB.
Clean water was needed in homes, she said, as opposed to the “disjointed, dangerous, and dysfunctional” system that had been run under 34 local authorities.
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