Water charge ‘farce’ to cost State millions

Water charge-dodgers are being given effective tax rebates of €100 each despite refusing to pay the levy in a “financial farce” that could cost the State tens of millions of euro, opposition TDs have warned.

With anti-charge campaigners insisting that the failure of 57% of customers to fork-out for water supplies will end in the inevitable demise of the utility next year, the Government was thrown onto the back-foot by the mass boycott.

Ministers admitted that the 425,000 households who had registered for the charge, but so far failed to pay it, would still automatically receive the €100 “water conservation grant” if they applied for it, but claimed they were “very happy” with less than half of homes paying their bills at this stage.

Catherine Murphy TD, joint leader of the newly launched Social Democrats, said Irish Water was as good as finished.

“The so-called €100 conservation grant is obviously, despite what they claim, some sort of tax rebate, aimed at bribing people to sign-up. It is actually insulting to call it a conservation grant, as if they had really been interested in conserving water from the beginning, a lot more people would have supported them in that. As things stand this could cost up to €42m in effective tax rebates to people who refuse to pay the charge because it is so unfair. I really cannot see Irish Water surviving beyond the next election,” Ms Murphy said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also ridiculed the Government position, insisting the Coalition had brought in the first tax in history that would actually lose the State money.

“Only 43% of the expected customer base of 1.5m people have paid up. If that rate of payment continues, the Government will take in approximately €120m, while it will have paid out approximately €130m in the water conservation grant, and another €25m will be due in interest repayments on the loans taken out to pay for the installation of water meters. On that basis, the Government will lose at least €35m in revenue as a result of the imposition of the tax. It is probably the first Government in history to lose money having introduced a tax,” Mr Martin told the Dail.

Sinn Féin joined Fianna Fáil in questioning whether EU financial watchdogs Eurostat would now sign-off on Irish Water being able to claim status as a non-Government fund-raising agency in September due to the low payment levels and huge potential cost of the conservation grant.

Senior Cabinet sources have told the Irish Examiner that such a decision from the Luxembourg-based agency would force an emergency general election.

Mr Martin dismissed Government claims that people were slow to make payments, insisting that the mass boycott would lead others who had initially paid to follow suit with non-payers when the next round of bills went out.

“Why would one pay the water charge if one gets the €100 anyway? Those who have paid must be looking askance at the situation having learned even if one is not an Irish Water customer, one will get the €100. It is a moment of high farce that the Government has now landed us in and it is time to go back to the drawing board and start afresh,” he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted the payment figures were in line with a new entity as he thanked the 675,000 households who had met their financial obligations.

“I have listened to many left wing people talk about the issue recently. It is the same old story. They want to pay for nothing, make no contribution, and expect someone else to do it for them,” Mr Kenny said.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly denied that the conservation grant was a bribe intended to get people to register as he insisted those in arrears to Irish Water of more than €500 would have orders made against them from 2017 to recoup the money owed.

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