Energy regulation commissioner Paul McGowan made the comment during a meeting with TDs and senators which also saw him recommend those using the system should be given a special tax rebate to encourage others to sign up.
Speaking at the latest cross-party Oireachtas water committee meeting, the chief of the Commission on Energy Regulation said that due to other financial demands, the existing water meter installation project should cease by the end of this month.
Despite the fact 25% of homes across the country — including a large number of areas which have been the subject of significant local protests — are still without meters, Mr McGowan said other spending requirements should be prioritised.
The senior official noted media reports yesterday suggesting this meant the existing water meter system should now be scrapped.
However, stressing this is not the case to Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, he said it is instead more accurate to say he is in favour of “parking the roll-out” as meters may still be used in the future: “To be very clear, we did not say it should be abandoned.
“Given the proposal from the expert commission that the vast majority of the water would be paid for by the State, and only excessive water usage would be paid for, in that context, there are other priorities for capital investment.
“If you were to characterise it [what the commission on energy regulation wants to happen to the meter installation system], I would say ‘parking’,” he said.
During the same meeting Mr McGowan was heavily criticised by Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, who accused the energy regulator of exceeding its remit by calling on the Government to introduce a tax rebate for water meter users.
In his submission to the committee — tasked with providing recommendations on the future of water charges to the Dáil by March — Mr McGowan said the move should be considered to incentivise people to seek access to the equipment.
Questioning the comment, Ms O’Connell asked Ms McGowan “why you think it is your role to comment”.
However, the energy regulator said he gave the tax rebate suggestion because “we were asked to do so” by the committee.
He added that while any final decision should be taken by Government, it is “always something to look at in due course”.
Meanwhile, the energy regulator has confirmed that while he and his commission are in favour of postponing further water meter installations, they have yet to conduct any cost-benefit analysis of this for the taxpayer.
While an end to the installation of further water meters would be widely welcomed by opponents of water charges, it is as yet unclear how a mooted free water usage allowance could be provided to people without some way to check how much each household uses.
Asked if the State will be expected to “guess” how much people use, Mr McGowan admitted “we have no definitive answer on that”.