Water in Ireland should be paid for via tax says expert commission

Normal domestic water usage should be paid through general taxation with a charge levied for “wasteful usage” according to the report of the expert commission examining the future of water charges in the Irish Republic.

But charges for commercial customers should remain in place, the commission stated.

The report will now be considered by a special 20-person Oireachtas committee, which will sit for up to three months. The Dáil will then vote in the spring on the final package.

Under the proposed arrangement, Irish Water (the national water utility)) will provide sufficient water to all citizens to cover their domestic and personal needs, and the cost of that water will be recovered from the State, which will be a customer of the utility, based on tariffs approved by CER, the commercial regulator, following consultation. Special provision should be made for those with special needs, the report argued.

The commission said that the Government should consider the introduction of a "water tax" in order to keep the public utility afloat."The question of whether there should be a dedicated tax…would be a matter of budgetary policy and outside the scope of this report, but is worthy of further consideration," the report stated.

The charging formula proposed by the commission echoes the position in Northern Ireland. It is not clear whether it will fully satisfy the European Commission.

Water charges was an issue that almost ripped the Fine Gael-Labour coalition apart in the summer of 2014 and without question cost the two parties a lot of seats in the general election last February. Sorting the issue out remains highly politically contentious. Fianna Fáil has already intimated it may push to merge the property tax and water charges.