U-turn to slash water levies by a third

The Coalition will make a last-ditch attempt to quell public anger over water charges with a massive climb-down which will see bills for an average family slashed by more than a third of what was announced in the summer.

Those who refuse to pay will have fines of around €50 a year added to future bills, which will be attached to their property and therefore have to be paid before their house can be sold.

Sources involved in the discussions on a new pricing regime said last night that fines of between 15% and 20% of the charge will be added on to bills of non-payers. Chronic refusal to pay could result in homeowners being brought to court, but the option of taking charges from wages or social welfare payments has been ruled out.

Under the revised plan, there will be two categories of households: those with one adult, which will pay €60 a year; and those with two or more adults, which will pay €160 a year.

This is the rate that will apply after the €100 rebate, paid from the Department of Social Protection, is taken into account. It will only be available to those who register with Irish Water.

The rates are expected to be set until 2018 — pushing the issue well beyond the next general election.

The plans, to be announced in the Dáil this afternoon, mark a significant shift from charges announced in July, which set the cost for a family of two adults and two children at €278, and two parents with two adult children living at home at €482 a year.

In an effort to bring the public around to acceptance of paying for water, the Cabinet will also agree to a delay in the introduction of charges until January 2015, three months later than previously planned.

Meanwhile, Siptu, which represents about 100 of the 400 directly employed workers in Irish Water, says it “will not accept any unilateral changes to their terms and conditions of employment” after the utility confirmed bonuses will not be paid this year as planned and will be independently reviewed for 2015.

The U-turn on water charges has left Enda Kenny’s Government open to criticism that he is using “sweeteners and bribes” to buy public support, while abandoning the principle of water conservation and creating a public utility that the public has no faith in.

Fianna Fáil spokesman Barry Cowen said the Government was “moth-balling” the €500m metering programme which, he said, it signed up to without any cost-benefit analysis.

Union officials behind the Right2Water protest said the U-turn was a “con trick” designed to convince people to register before prices surge after 2018.

Mandate general secretary John Douglas said the reduced charges would leave Irish Water with a shortfall and future fee increases will be needed to operate.

Last night, hundreds of women staged a silent vigil outside Coolock Garda Station. The crowd gathered to protest against alleged Garda brutality at recent water charges protests. The women, all clad in hi-vis jackets, lined Oscar Traynor Road for a number of hours.

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