The undercurrent of change in statements on Irish Water

The Taoiseach and members of the Cabinet have issued contradictory statements on Irish Water over the last six months, writes Joe Leogue

THE Government will hope that yesterday’s announcement on reduced water charges and provisions to block the privatisation of Irish Water will draw a line under what has been a tumultuous year for the Coalition.

Despite repeated promises of delivering clarity, however, the blame for much of the Government’s woes can be laid squarely at the Taoiseach who, along with other members of the Cabinet, has issued contradictory and provocative statements over the last six months.

“Children are to be given a 38,000-litre allocation, which effectively makes all children under the age of 18 years free,” Enda Kenny declared on May 6, on allowances for children.

“Regarding people who decide not to pay, this is not fair to all of those people who are hard pressed and who do make a contribution. While water is very necessary for life, fundamentally, people are not going to have their water connection cut off but there will be a case of reduced pressure where people decide not to pay,”the Taoiseach added, regarding those who refuse to pay.

“No bonuses have been paid to anyone in Irish Water and the chief executive will not be paid a bonus. Irish Water does not have a policy of pay increments and has a pay freeze until 2016,”he said, commenting on bonuses in Irish Water, on October 7. The company announced it would not pay bonuses on November 19.

“Irish Water will not be privatised, as already provided for in legislation. I am prepared to stand by that,” Mr Kenny said on October 21.

“I am not prepared to increase income tax by four percentage points on the top rate, to do away with our tax package in the recent budget… the introduction of Irish Water is being done in this way as an alternative to increasing income tax” he said in response to huge water protests on November 1.

On November 4 he said: “The Government will not drop water contribution charges. It will, having listened to the people, introduce a regime that is clear, fair, and affordable…What we want is a contribution from people that is fair and affordable. It should be pointed out what this is for, as the money will not go to some bondholder black hole or a private company.”

On the same day, Tánaiste Joan Burton said: “I am happy to say it is my view that the charge for the type of household the Deputy described will be below €200”.

On November 5, Mr Kenny said: “I share the Tánaiste’s view that the decision to be made here must be clear and affordable while taking into account the concerns and anxieties of people…The average charge has been set out and the Tánaiste made her remarks in a personal capacity here.”.

His comments came after Fine Gael sources had aired concerns that Ms Burton’s figures would be “too low”.

“The Government has made a number of decisions in regard to giving the regulator directions to the effect that the average metered charge would be €240 and that 30,000 litres would be allocated per household and 21,000 litres allocated per child,” Mr Kenny said on November 5, on allowances for children, now 17,000 litres less than originally promised.

“I feel the day of going out and saying that people’s water is going to be cut off or reduced to a trickle is over. I’d like to say that to people across the country. I don’t think it’s realistic to be going around saying that,” said Environment Minister Alan Kelly, on November 7, speaking on the threats of reducing water pressure for those who decide not to pay. This was in direct contraction to Mr Kenny’s earlier pronouncements.

“I object very strongly to a situation where thugs are being ferried in to these protests and taking over from ordinary people who might want to voice their concerns,” Mr Kenny said on November 8

On November 18, speaking on the Government’s bill aimed at preventing the privatisation of Irish Water, he said: “In order to strengthen what is already referred to in the Constitution, and the reasons that I’ve outlined for you, the minister for the environment will bring forward primary legislation to strengthen and bolster the position here insofar as the constitution is concerned so that Irish Water will be retained in public ownership and will never be privatised.”

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