Refunding of water charges would be unfair on rural dwellers

Calls to refund water charges in the interests of fairness ignore rural dwellers who always paid for water and waste water services, writes Jim Daly

WHERE to now for the sore and sordid saga that has been the introduction of water charges in Ireland?

Amidst the growing list of politicians particularly from the Government side of the House calling for a refund of payments to those who paid for water in recent years, it is high time political leaders took a step back and applied some logic to their arguments before committing to any particular course of action.

A refund of the water charges paid to date would be a retrograde step of enormous proportion and serve to seriously undermine the democratic process.

If the Government was to start refunding the almost 1m people who paid their bills, this would represent a serious undermining of governance.

What then for the people who have paid in to group water schemes? What about those who have their own wells? Remember these charges are for waste water treatment also.

Should the 30% of households in the country who have their own septic tanks be reimbursed for all payments in recent decades to treating their waste water in the interests of fairness? Then on to the TV licence.

More than 270,000 people do not pay their TV licence — is that not a reasonable basis also to propose refunds for the 1.4m people who pay their TV licence every year?

And so the absurdity of the illogical demands by politicians for refunds of a legally binding charge for delivery of a treated commodity to your kitchen sink becomes clearer.

Do we in turn look for a return of the water provided to each household as we refund all payments? The logical extension to this argument is what to do with the conservation grants of €100 which have been paid?

People are suggesting deducting the €100 conservation grant from the amount to be repaid but this only serves to further exacerbate the unfairness by leaving those who refused to pay with their €100 as a reward for non-payment of the water charges. I rest my case.

The issue of fairness has been cited by the people advocating a refund of water charges. Two wrongs will not combine to make a right. The billing cycle at Irish Water has been paused, not ceased or discontinued.

On resumption of the billing cycle, Irish Water will have a new charging regime, presumably with some agreed domestic allowance. As bills are reissued reflecting the new agreed regime, the balance will also reflect the arrears from previous years.

I suggest a penalty for late payments similar to the €10 per month added to the NPPR charge on second homes would focus minds and result in a significantly increased payment rate.

The already legislated-for attachment orders which allow for deductions from state payments would kick in on all bills that exceed the €500 threshold, thereby ensuring full compliance with this legally binding charge and ensuring equal treatment for all. There would be no courts, prison or political heroes.

There will, of course, be a system agreed to cater for those who cannot pay as currently exists for all other utility bills that are providing hardship for users of those services.

Assistance is presently available through the local community welfare offices and will be available for those who are experiencing difficulty with paying their water bills also. Refunds of water bills paid will do nothing to ensure fairness for any side of this debate.

People who believe that a refund of water charges paid will ensure fairness to all sectors are missing large sections of the story to date. The genie is already out of the bottle.

Rural people have been paying for their own supply and treatment of water for decades. The idea that they should accept a further reduction in services such as roads, bus services, broadband etc as a result of the cost of water going back on to general taxation will not be accepted by rural people.

Why should John living in rural Ireland pay for his own water supply and treatment and pay in to general taxation to provide and treat water for his neighbours living in the town who already enjoy a far greater share of services on their doorstep.

Refunding water charges paid to date may represent a huge victory for a political party representing less than 2% of the population of Ireland, but will do absolutely nothing to provide fair play to the 37% of the population living in rural Ireland.

Jim Daly is a Fine Gael TD for Cork South West and sits on the 20 member Oireachtas committee tasked with dealing with the recently published report on water charges.


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