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On tap: A short history of Irish water charges

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The Irish Times – Saturday, April 21, 2012.  Harry McGee

The first serious blow against domestic charges was struck shortly after Fianna Fáil came to power in 1977. Its manifesto in that election had promised to abolish domestic rates, and it came good on the promise in the budget of early 1978. Deprived of this funding, local authorities became dependent on a central government fund and were described by critics as “toothless”.

In 1985, the then tánaiste, Dick Spring of Labour (pictured), partially reversed the decision when he facilitated the introduction of a local-authority domestic-service levy.

But in 1985, when local authorities tried to reintroduce water charges, they encountered varying degrees of opposition, at its most concerted in Dublin. Dublin Corporation and county council eventually decided not to reintroduce the domestic service and water charges, leaving an anomaly between the capital and the rest of the country, where everyone else was paying water charges.

The issue re-emerged in 1994 when Dublin County Council was split into three. A fresh attempt was made to introduce water charges in Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county-council areas. A campaign opposing the charge continued for more than two years, involving disconnections and court cases, some of which were successfully appealed.

The decisive moment came in 1996, when a byelection was held in Dublin West following the death of Brian Lenihan snr. While his son Brian, who has also since died, won the seat, he was only a hair’s breadth ahead of Joe Higgins, who stood as an anti-water-charge candidate and polled 23 per cent of first preferences.

In that byelection, the Labour candidate Michael O’Donovan got less than 4 per cent of the vote, and it was widely thought that then environment minister Brendan Howlin’s decision to abolish water charges (which were then flat charges) was in response to the byelection defeat.

He did so despite a report prepared for his department by consultants KPMG that recommended the introduction of meters.

Between then and last year’s general election, Labour has opposed water charges. In the Dáil debate on the Water Services Bill (which was long-fingered) Eamon Gilmore, then Labour’s environment spokesman, said: “The legislation is a thinly disguised attempt to privatise the water supply. Going hand in hand with that is a formula to get around the 1997 Act and reintroduce water charges by another name, be that a rent for the meter or a straight-up charge. It is our duty as an opposition to oppose this legislation.”

It sounds very like the argument currently being used by opponents of Irish Water.

The Green Party did want water to be metered but could not convince Fianna Fáil to include it in their programme for government in 2007. However, it was included in the revised programme in 2009. Subsequently, the introduction of meters formed part of the memorandum of understanding agreed with the troika in late 2010.

In its programme for government the Fine Gael and Labour coalition also stated that its objective was to install water meters in every household in Ireland.

For Labour, that represented a change, given the party had opposed the charges in opposition.

Ireland is the only country in the OECD in which households do not pay directly for the water they use.

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The Irish Times – Saturday, April 21, 2012.  Harry McGee,

Ireland is the only country in the OECD in which households do not pay directly for the water they use.

This can be traced to a series of populist political fudges by successive governments. The first was when Fianna Fáil abolished domestic rates in 1978 without coming up with an alternative model. Seven years later, in 1985, the then tánaiste, Dick Spring, introduced a local-service levy, which included a water charge. Water charges were abolished again in December 1996 by environment minister Brendan Howlin, widely seen as a political move to block anti-tax candidates in a forthcoming election.

Since then, the only domestic users who have paid for water are those in group water schemes. For the rest of us, the water is paid for from general taxes.

In a paper for the World Bank in 2002, Sue Scott of the ESRI wrote about the effect of this: “Under an ‘absent hand’, a generation of people is growing up without realising that water is expensive to deliver.”

THE PAST WEEK has shown that water is still a highly political issue.

Because water is not free as most people believe.   In 2010 water services cost the State €1.2 billion to run, with operational costs of €715 million and capital expenditure of more than €500 million

The Government’s plan to set up Irish Water and to install meters in a million households is fraught with political risk.  The public has a strong aversion to any new taxes, particularly in a period of cutbacks when many households are struggling financially, and so soon after a household charge, or property tax, was introduced.

But there are many other problems. It is a double taxation, say the critics, who contend that water is already paid for by income tax and other taxes.

The United Left Alliance has already portrayed Irish Water as a Trojan horse for privatisation. Fianna Fáil has predicted it could lead to the loss of 1,600 jobs in local authorities.

And, in communication terms, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have refused to publicly discuss the price or free allowances of water. All that’s really known is that there will be a fixed annual charge of about €40.

Earlier in the week the Government struggled with the pricing issue: Enda Kenny said households would have to pay for meters but that their installation would be free. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said no decision had been made on how water meters would be paid for, while the Department of the Environment said the buying and installing of meters would have to be paid for. There was little clarification as the week went on.

Within the Coalition the issue could become a political embarrassment. It’s hardly a year since Labour Ministers, including Brendan Howlin and Eamon Gilmore, were opposing water charges hammer and tongs. The smaller Coalition party will be reminded of this constantly, and it will be painted as a political “flip-flop”.

In practical terms, to have more than a million meters installed by 2014 is as likely as Ireland winning a dozen gold medals at the London Olympics. Charges have to be introduced by 2014, which means if there are delays, a significant number of households will be charged on an “assessed” basis – that is, the charge will estimated based on the number of people in a home, and the size of the house.

And now it appears that a third of houses eligible for water rates will always have to pay a flat charge, because their properties are not suitable for the installation of meters, according to the executive manager at Dublin City Council, Tom Leahy. This is because the houses share supply pipes with neighbours or their water supply from the mains enters the house under their back gardens.

As the household charge has demonstrated, people have deep antipathy to flat taxes, which make no distinction between thrifty people and spendthrifts.

The presence of meters in group water schemes is one of the reasons water charges have been accepted with hardly a murmur of complaint by a generation of rural households that makes up 8 per cent of the population. In these cases, the voluntary nature of the groups leads to strong “buy-in” and is another persuasive factor.

So what can the Government learn from rural water schemes? Well, in most of these cases, metering works, and works well. Those who run the rural schemes believe that standing, or fixed, charges will fail, because they don’t encourage conservation. They also argue that meters should be paid for by customers upfront.

But they also point out that their schemes are predominantly rural and and run by local communities and by voluntary committees. That gives them a moral persuasion that central government can never have.

In his role as national policy adviser for the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, representing about 370 groups, Sean Clerkin has drawn on his own experience – and his initial shock at having to pay for water – to convince others of the merits of charges. There is almost no scheme that is not metered nowadays.

As his colleague in the federation Brian McDonald says: “We realised from the beginning that [meters] were the fairest and most equitable way of paying for water. If there is a widow on her own paying a flat-rate charge, where’s the fairness or equity in that? She is subsidising the bigger user.”

Clerkin zealously gives The Irish Times a tour of another large scheme in Co Monaghan: the Glaslough and Tyholland scheme, catering for 700-plus households. The source for the scheme is Emy Lough, and there is a treatment works on its shore, which was designed, built and is operated by the French company Veolia. In the plant, there’s a demonstration sink with four taps, each producing water at different stages: raw; filtered; after ozone treatment; and final. The colour changes from brownish to clear.

Committee members David Wright, Padge McKenna and Nuala Murphy describe how about half of the households stay within their free water limit, while most others pay between €50 and €100 a year. However, there is an annual Government subsidy of up to €400 per household.

In Tydavnet, says Clerkin, there is a basic free allocation; the average two-adult, two-child family will pay about €100. The bill is sent out in March each year, and if it is paid by the end of the month there is a 20 per cent reduction. About 96 per cent pay within that first month.

And what of those who refuse to pay? “On two occasions in the past 28 years we have had to bring the digger to the roadside. Our board and management have the power to waive, but we use common sense. If somebody is in difficulty, we will give them time to pay it, but we will insist they pay it in time. We don’t want to give anybody the impression that it is free,” says Clerkin. Both Clerkin and McDonald believe metering works, both in terms of equity and in conserving water. They also argue that the cost per cubic litre must not be too low, and they do not favour the Government’s proposals for a standing charge, not linked to usage, which they say is a disincentive.

“If you give it away too cheaply, people won’t have any regard for it,” says Clerkin.

“If there’s a flat-rate charge and no metering where’s the incentive to turn off a tap? Our emphasis is to put all the water being used on the meter and not have a standing charge. Our view is that the Government should consider giving people the option of paying for the meter upfront. In Arva, Co Cavan, a new scheme was introduced five years ago with meters. There was also a decent charging regime, and the consumption dropped by 55 per cent.”

Watersavingproducts.ie – Help Households Reduce Their Water Consumption and Save

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Watersavingproducts.ie  – Help Households Reduce Their Water Consumption and Save.
Water & Energy Saving Household Kit could save upto 50% of water in the home.

Online retailer Watersavingproduct.ie launch their water & energy saving household kit on the consumer show (with Eddie Hobbs) to be aired next Tuesday on RTE 1 at 8.30pm.

Watersavingproducts.ie is the online store of Smart Energy Systems Ltd, a leading water & energy saving company, committed to helping households save money on water & energy in a number of ways .  The water & energy saving household kit for households includes everything from leak detection tablets to showerhead savers to toilet displacement bags and faucet aerators.  The kits even includes a shower timer to help move along those teenagers!

This project came about as a result of works carried out by Smart Energy Systems for Dublin City Council on some of their Regeneration Projects around Dublin.  The company details were passed on to one of the researchers for The Consumer Show, who contacted the Smart Energy Systems office in Ennis.

As part of a feature on water savings for the Consumer Show, Smart Energy System installed a number of water saving products  in a three bed semi’d in Artane, Co. Dublin.

We initially visited the house about a month ago, where we carried out an audit on the house to see what water saving devices could be fitted both inside the home and in the garden, said Michael Lyons, Smart Energy Systems Director.   A new water meter was then installed by Dublin City Council.

The water meter was monitored over a 2 week period to get an idea of the family’s water consumption before Smart Energy Systems returned to the house and installed the suitable water saving products while it was recorded and discussed with Eddie Hobbs.  The products installed, included a Water Saving Showerhead, A Shower Timer, Faucet Aerators on the Taps, Cistern Displacement Units in the Toilets along with a Rain Water Butt outside.

The water meter has been monitored since these water saving products were installed and the savings on water along with all the information on the Water & Energy Saving Household Kits will be discussed next Tuesday Evening on the Consumer Show at 8.30 pm on RTE 1.

All of the products featured in the show can be purchased online at their new online store www.watersavingproducts.ie

Smart Energy Systems also provide products to the commercial sector such as the Smart Waterless Urinal currently shortlisted for the 2012 Green Product Award and which has been installed in the Aviva Stadium and retrofitted in Thomond Park.  Other products include water saving showerheads, urinal controllers, push taps and aerators all capable of  achieveing cost savings of over 50% – great savings for any company.

Contact Smart Energy Sytems online or call us on 0818-288050

Irish Times – Prospect of €780 water meter fee

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HARRY McGEE, Political Correspondent, Irish Times.

Households will pay an average of €39 per annum over 20 years to cover the cost of the loan from the National Pension Reserve Fund to install water meters in one million Irish homes.

Government sources confirmed yesterday the cost per household, based on the size of the NPRF loan, would work out at about €780, but that the cost would be levied as a standing charge over a period of two decades, in much the same way as such charges are already imposed by other utilities such as the ESB and Bord Gáis.

However, it was stressed that the ultimate decision on the size of the annual standing charge would be a decision for the Commission for Energy Regulation, which will be dealing with the new water metering service.

It will not be in a position to make any deliberation until the new water company had begun its operations.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed yesterday that householders would pay for the cost of the meters but that the cost would not be an upfront one. Charges are to become operable in early 2014.

“Obviously when you provide water meters somebody has to pay for them. We’ve made absolutely no decision about this. Any charge will . . . be the absolute minimum because of the difficulties that are involved here,” Mr Kenny said.

The clarification came ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting, where Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan will bring a memo setting out an implementation plan for installing water meters nationwide in time for water charges to be introduced in early 2014.

He will also bring proposals to set up the new utility company, Irish Water, on a transitional basis. It will replace the functions currently performed by 34 local authorities.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said today no decision had been made on water meter charges.

Speaking on his way into Government Buildings for a Cabinet meeting, Mr Gilmore said pricing arrangements and proposals for setting up a water company have yet to be discussed by the Government.

He said the Cabinet would discuss the establishment of the Irish Water Company.

In the previous 24 hours the Government had struggled to clear up confusion surrounding the pricing model. Mr Kenny had said that households would have to pay for meters but their installation would be free.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said today no decision had been made on water meter charges.

Speaking on his way into Government Buildings for a Cabinet meeting, Mr Gilmore said pricing arrangements and proposals for setting up a water company have yet to be discussed by the Government.

He said the Cabinet would discuss the establishment of the Irish Water Company.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that as many as 2,000 jobs would be created through the installation of water meters in the State. He also set out what will be a key plank of the Government’s strategy in its efforts to persuade the public of the need for efficient water management systems by saying “water was one of the most precious commodities”.

Government sources said last night that, in general, no charge would be applied until water meters were installed. However, it is unlikely that all one million homes will have meters in place by the end of next year.

The sources said households that have no meters installed will pay an “assessed charge” based on the metered charges paid by comparable metered properties. This system will be applied to the approximately 350,000 households that will not be metered because it would be too costly or too logistically difficult.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said no formal decision had been taken yet over who would take over the running of the State’s water and that it would be “premature” to be speculating what costs would be involved for consumers.

“I see meters as the friend of the householder and friend of business, as they’ll prevent people from paying for water that’s wasted,” he said.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Niall Collins described the handling of water metering as the “latest fiasco” at the Department of the Environment.

“The lack of any clear answer from Ministers over the last 24 hours on the question of whether or not households will be asked to pay for a water meter proves one thing: this Government has no meaningful strategy on water reform.”

“Already we are seeing worrying similarities with the communications disaster that surrounded the household charge,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Brian Stanley criticised the handling of the issue, as well as the potential costs for householders. The party is opposed to the charge.

Smart Energy Systems shortlisted for the 2012 Green Awards

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We are very pleased to announce that we have been shortlisted for the 2012 Green Awards in the Green Product category. The standard of entries is high with some very high profile organisations represented in the shortlist.   We would like to take this opportunity to wish all competitors the very best of luck. For a full list of award categories and the nominees visit www.greenawards.ie

The Green Awards aim to celebrate excellence in sustainability and to encourage green best practice amongst Ireland’s organisations and individuals.

Smart Energy Systems entry into this competition is the retrofit Key-Waterless Urinal System®. This product fulfill one of  the key criteria of this award which is an effective replacement of a non-green traditional alternative. In this case we are replacing the need to flush urinals with huge volumes of water by converting existing urinal bowls to a waterless system with a key valve.

Water charges – toughest challenge this Government will face

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By Paul Melia Irish Independent

Tuesday March 20 2012

IT’s not just our health that will suffer if we don’t clean up our water. Thousands of jobs in IT, pharmaceuticals and the food and tourist businesses are at risk if we don’t improve quality and produce water on a par with the best in Europe.

Ireland faces a major challenge over the coming years. Water quality is improving, but hundreds of treatment plants across the State need to be upgraded.

And it’s going to be very expensive — experts say at least €500m is needed every year up to 2027 to meet EU targets on water quality.

Much of our economic success has come about because multinationals like Intel in Leixlip and Pfizer in Cork see Ireland as a place that can meet demand for clean, good quality water.

Coupled with our low corporation tax rates, it has enticed major employers in the IT, pharmaceutical and chemical industries here. If there’s any drop in quality they will go elsewhere, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs.

The Government also plans a major increase in food production, with the Food Harvest 2020 strategy planning to increase exports by 42pc by 2020. Food production is very water-intensive.

We all know about the drive for more tourists. Clean and green Ireland attracts anglers, walkers and families. Upset stomachs and putrid bathing waters won’t pull in the tourist euro.

A step in the right direction is to establish a single company, to be called Irish Water, to take control.

It will borrow money to build plants and upgrade the system, while also providing specialist careers in water management — expertise that could be later exported as the world grapples with water shortages.

The problem for the Government is how to pay for all the work. Ireland is one of the few EU countries without household water charges, meaning there is no incentive to reduce use.

There’s also no money in the kitty, meaning that even had the troika not insisted that domestic water charges be introduced, they probably would have happened anyway. But there’s a lack of certainty on how the system will work — how much ‘free’ water will be given? How much will people pay? What happens to those living in homes where a meter cannot be installed?

The international experience only tells us so much. Average daily cons-umption per adult in Ireland is 150 litres. The free allocation in Johannes-burg, South Africa, is 25 litres per day. In Flanders, it is 41 litres. Will we be somewhere in the middle?

The average household water bill in Scotland is £324 (€388 ) a year — just over €1 a day — but the Scots don’t have to grapple with a raft of stealth taxes introduced to help shore up creaking government coffers.

The introduction of household water charges from 2014 is among the toughest challenges this Government will face.

Everyone knows our water services are not up to scratch and will bitterly resent having to pay for a sub-standard service.

It’s for precisely these reasons that we’re going to have to start paying. If we don’t, we face the prospect of more health problems, and hi-tech companies moving elsewhere.

– Paul Melia.

Low Water Lunch Day on March 22nd

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Water and Food Security is the theme for International World Water Day 2012 and to celebrate An Taisce is organising a Low Water Lunch Day on March 22nd. Low Water Lunch Day is aimed at raising awareness on how much water we consume in our everyday food.

Green-Schools have put together fun and educational lesson plans, as well as useful posters and videos that will help you celebrate and participate in Low Water Lunch Day 2012. We’ve included a number of educational posters and videos that you may want to display around your school. Some of these are used in particular lesson plans. We’ve also included a list of very helpful websites.

You can access the Low Water Lunch Day 2012 Resource Park here.

Minister Criticised Over Septic Tank Bill

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Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív has criticised the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan for his total disregard for promises, procedures and for the public.

Deputy Ó Cuív explained: “In reply to a Parliamentary Question from me on 08 March 2012, Minister Hogan confirmed that he intends signing a Commencement Order for the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 in advance of commencing the registration system, which is expected to be operational in mid-April 2012.

“That fact that the Minister would do this after breaking his promise to publish the Draft Regulations on the maintenance and upgrade standards that will apply under this Act shows a total disregard for the people and an arrogance that is beyond belief.

“A number of weeks ago I was informed that the regulations under this Act would be published the following week. This is not the first time that totally incorrect information was given on the record of the Dáil. Instead of publishing the Draft Regulations, what was actually published was a woolly, fluffy document that will have absolutely no force of law.

“I am calling on Minister Hogan to defer commencement of the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012, until he has published the regulations outlining the standards of maintenance and operation of septic tanks, and these regulations are approved by Dáil Éireann. To do otherwise is to ask the people to buy a pig in a poke, and thousands of septic tank owners will refuse to register until this information is made available.

“The Minister has indicated that people will have one year from the time of the commencement of registration to register and I will be urging all septic tank owners to avail of this time to refuse to register until the Minister solves the outstanding issues in relation to this act. These relate to the inspection standards that will apply, the provision of grants to put septic tank owners on a par with urban dwellers, and the elimination of all registration and inspection charges as well as other vital issues.

“Minister Hogan’s refusal to adhere to Oireachtas procedures and facilitate a proper debate on this legislation is unprecedented. He does not seem to not understand that rural people are aware of the enormous consequences of this Act if all of the issues I have raised are not addressed.”                            Source:  build.ie/construction/news

 

 

Nestlé boss urges local action on global water scarcity

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12 March 2012, source edie newsroom

Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has stressed the need for “pragmatic, efficient and cost-effective action” to address global water scarcity at the World Water Forum.

He was speaking at the event in Marseille, France, today (March 12) as Nestlé launched its latest creating shared value report Meeting the Global Water Challenge highlighting its efforts to tackle the issue.

Brabeck-Letmathe told delegates the key to reducing global water consumption was local action. “Water issues cannot be solved by structures abroad,” he said.

“Initiative has to be taken at local level by addressing specific issues on individual river basins. It has to be government driven and supported by a broad local public-private partnership.”

He stressed that a global public-private initiative 2030 Water Resources Group (WRG) can also help by providing tools and information on best practice.

Formed in 2008 following the United Nations’ call for businesses and governments to address the issue of water security, it provides guidance and new policy ideas on water resource scarcity.

Brabeck-Letmathe, who chairs the WRG, appealed for support for the initiative from the 3,200 attendees at the opening session.