Reports yesterday suggested that ministers agreed on Tuesday that a referendum motion would be put to the people, but several ministerial sources insisted there was “absolutely no discussion or decision” on a referendum.
“It simply not discussed and there was no Government decision,” said one minister.
The Cabinet did agreed to introduce legislation to implement the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on water charges, which will provide refunds for householders who have paid the charge.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, government sources insisted a referendum on public ownership of water will require separate legislation and that has not gone before Cabinet for approval.
Such a move is being examined by the Attorney General’s office. The Government has allowed the early stages of an opposition private member’s bill providing for a referendum to pass, but reserved the right to amend it.
The bill approved on Tuesday will allow for the current billing regime to be discontinued, and provide for general tax to fund domestic water services. Under the new regime, some 70,000 households — 8% of customers — will face fines. According to Irish Water figures, this 8% accounts for 30% of domestic water used.
As a result of the decision to axe water charges for most homes, the bill will commit to an annual budget for the utility from Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s department.
The department will be asked to find €240m in lost revenue from the abolishing of charges, and will also be asked to provide capital funding to Irish Water. The bill will be followed by separate legislation to allow for a referendum. The Attorney General’s office is considering amendments to the wording put forward by Independents4Change TD Joan Collins to ensure group and private water schemes will not be pulled in.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, a government spokesman said those issues had not been resolved and separate legislation would be needed.