Thursday, 28 June 2012
Question 12: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the timeframe for the implementation of water charges; if he has reviewed the original timeframe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31169/12]
The memorandum of understanding with the EU, IMF and ECB commits Ireland to introducing water charges for households during the programming period. However, no decision has been taken by the Government on the exact date for the introduction of water charges.
The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and it has decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. International evidence has shown that where meters have been installed significant reductions have been achieved in the level of consumption and this is also borne out by the water savings achieved with metering in the group water sector, which have been up to 30% in some cases. Irish Water, a new State-owned water company to be established as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann Group, will be responsible for the metering programme.
The Government has also decided to assign responsibility for the economic regulation of the water sector to the Commission for Energy Regulation. The primary role of the regulator will be to protect the interests of customers and to ensure a consistent and appropriate level of service is provided to customers. The framework for water charges will be determined as part of the regulatory process.
The Minister conceded earlier that the household charge is not ideal and that revenue raised in a particular area should be ring-fenced for and spent in that area. I am sure he will agree that this is another example. There were questions earlier about reform of local government. Would he not consider it an integral part of local government reform, if we are to have real and meaningful engagement at local authority level from public representatives, that when elected they be accountable to the electorate for the setting and raising of local charges? We might get people being more responsible in regard to it. This is another example of it. Ultimately, the Minister is sucking the function away from the local authorities and putting it into a stand alone entity. Second, what is the long-term position in regard to all the people who work in the provision of water services for the local authorities?
It is far from my intention to suck away the local authority involvement in terms of knowledge or expertise. There will be service level agreements between Irish Water and local authorities. They will continue to be involved in the provision of water and wastewater facilities and the operation and maintenance of them at local level, as they are now. What I am taking away is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in setting up this new entity as a stand alone entity within the Bord Gáis group to allow more investment in water and wastewater services from the private sector become part of the public capital programme. We do not have the money and will not have it over the next two years to do what we need to do to generate the necessary infrastructure in water and wastewater services for economic development and job creation. We have to find the money elsewhere, and there is some interest in the private sector becoming involved. It will be part of the public utility company we have agreed to establish.
I am interested in Deputy Collins's view about the way water charges can be levied locally to meet the requirements at local level. Every area is different in regard to the provision of water and wastewater. We must have the regulation of those matters at central level but we also need the assets and liabilities of local authorities to be available to Irish Water in the water and wastewater area to attract private investment into the sector. That is the best way in which we can do so at the moment.